Brazil - Back to the Warm for a While

Even the summer months in Chile had been decidedly cool most of the time, while autumn in the Beagle Channel and the Falklands had been enough to get the heater lighted on more than a few evenings. Thus our trip north, back into flying fish territory, came as something of a relief. Fortunately, despite a hot first week in Rio, the weather soon cooled to what the Brazilians consider cold, but was perfect for us - T-shirts and shorts all day, and a sheet sleeping bag at night. Even arriving as we did in the night at Rio, the harbour is stunning. The following day as we zipped across the harbour on the fast-cat ferry from Charitas to central Rio in perfect sunshine, we got the full benefit of the surrounding scenery. It is very beautiful - so long as you don't look too closely at the rather muddy looking water that surrounds you. Despite the meticulously cleaned beaches, from which the locals happily swim in the harbour, its water must have a specific gravity approaching that of mercury, full as it is with every sort of effluent.

 Other cruising friends had recommended that we stay at the Clube Naval Charitas, on the eastern, Niteroi, side of the harbour. This proved a wonderful spot. Like many South American and Spanish yacht clubs, it was very much a family country and social club, with BBQ areas, a huge swimming pool and various other leisure facilities - quite apart from the docks for moorage. The fees were inexpensive and the Club members very welcoming. It might have been a long and inconvenient trip into central Rio, had there not been the recent introduction of a fast ferry terminal five minutes walk from the Club. In any case, we soon found that apart from seeing the big city sights, there was little reason to go across the harbour. Niteroi had all we needed and, as the locals all say, if you want to see the beauty of Rio, go to Niteroi. There is another good reason for staying out of Rio. That side has a deserved reputation for violent street crime, which is much less prevalent in Niteroi.

Tucked at the back of the work yard at the Club we found this sad sight. She is a smaller S&S sister of Sunstone, about 34 feet overall, probably built in the 50's in Argentina. At some point it was clearly someone's intention to refurbish her, but in another year or so, especially in a climate like that of Brazil, there will be nothing left to refurbish. Despite her still lovely lines, already her transom was gone and the sternpost going. The mahogany planking was heavily stained and soon rot would set in. She reminded us of 'Viking 2', a very similar boat from Argentina, owned by Adolpho and Delores who are currently in the Mediterranean.

 Tom's sister, Inge, had decided to join us in Rio, so we saved most of our sight-seeing for her arrival. However, the beautiful weather tempted us to take the old-fashioned tram up into Santa Teresa, one of the more picturesque, older quarters of town above central Rio. This proved a mistake. While walking around the city, we had been very careful and vigilant, heeding the many warnings about pickpockets and thieves. While looking around a plaza at the end of the tram line and talking to two Dutch women we had met, we lowered our guard and suddenly found ourselves the object of an attack. Fortunately, the attempting thieves, though violent were also incompetent. We managed to beat them off and they left empty-handed. Nevertheless, it was a shock and inevitably soured our view of the city. When we talked to middle-class Brazilians about our experience, most said that we had been lucky. Most had been robbed at some time, usually at knife or gun point. Though the extremes of poverty in Brazil undoubtedly contribute to the amount of violent crime, it does not explain it. Certainly those who attacked us were well-fed, well dressed young men, who arrived in a shiny car - possibly stolen. They certainly didn't have the appearance of people desperately resorting to crime to feed their families.



 You only need to walk along the beach in almost any town on Brazil's long coastline to understand why they produce so many of the best football players in the world. Even in blistering heat there are almost always games being played on the beach. If there aren't enough players for a game, three or four boys or young men will be practising their skills and ball control, passing a ball back and forth. Even on the roughest pitches, with bare feet, the skill levels are amazing, passing is precise, the ball is always under control, fitness levels are high. We are not at all fans of football, but it was a pleasure to watch young Brazilians play their national sport. Interestingly in a country where obedience to the law is not a foregone conclusion, few of the games we saw needed any kind of referee. Play was clean and even slight fouls were immediately admitted. Competition was keen, but not ruthless.

 We had decided that we should divide our time before Inge's arrival between Rio and the Ilha Grande area, 60 miles west along the coast. To reach it we made a night passage, leaving Rio just before sunset and passing Copacabana and Ipanema with the sun glinting from the windows of the high rise hotels and condominiums which line the two beaches against the back drop of amazing volcanic plugs. Just the mention of Ilha Grande calls to mind the difficulties we had with communicating in Brazil. Very few Brazilians speak any language other than Portuguese. Elsewhere in South America, we had managed to develop our pidgin Spanish to the point that we could generally be understood at a functional, shopping and dealing-with-officials level. Written Portuguese is very similar to Spanish. We could read signs and even official forms without too much difficulty. Unfortunately Portuguese sounds like nothing else at all. Many of the sounds of the language become a maze of soft ch's or j's. As an example the Brazilian currency is the real, the plural of which is reais; this is pronounced 'hayaish', while grande is pronounced 'granjay' and saude, meaning health, is pronounced 'sowuje'. We reached the point after three months that we could make our needs understood, but we could no more understand the responses than if the Brazilians had been speaking Cantonese. It was frustrating.



 Ilha Grande is a lush, forested island similar in shape to the Isle of Wight and to its north is a body of water similar to the Solent. It is Brazil's primary boating and cruising area, primarily because there are virtually no other larger, protected areas of water along the whole of Brazil's very long coastline. There are numerous anchorages, several towns and villages and a few marinas on the mainland side. The mainland side has been heavily developed for holidays and tourism and development is starting to overtake the island as well, though much of it is still attractively untouched. In addition, there are both container and oil terminals. The latter handles much of Brazil's offshore oil production, which in a very short time has made the country self-sufficient in oil; this has done a great deal to stabilise the economy. On the south side of the island are some well known surfing beaches, which attract both domestic and foreign tourists. From our first anchorage at Ensenada das Palmas we could walk across to the beautiful beach at Lopez Mendez. Here we also saw some fine examples of what the Brazilians call 'fila dental' - dental floss, or the extreme string bikini. These are standard female beach-wear in Brazil, not only for the young and shapely, but for any female from the age of 10 to 60, no matter what their shape or size.




 With its sheltered anchorages, beautiful beaches and warm water the Ilha Grande area is a delightful cruising area, if somewhat limited in size. Not surprisingly, with two huge cities, Rio and Sao Paulo, only a few hours drive away, many Brazilians are also keen to enjoy the area. Unfortunately, the vast majority are equipped with powerful motorboats, which can turn peaceful anchorages into a cauldron of wakes. In addition, the Brazilian approach to anchoring, particularly among the power boaters can only be described as optimistic. Usually a small, stainless steel Bruce-type anchor, with little or no chain is dropped until it hits the bottom. Perhaps a meter or so of scope is paid out and the line is cleated. If there is any significant wind, at any one time at least 50% of boats in an anchorage will be gently dragging. But this is OK, because by the time they are about to make contact with other boats, the sun will be getting low and it will be time to get back to the marina. As a result, by an hour after sunset there are usually only a handful of boats remaining in any anchorage and virtually all will be sailing yachts. In Brazil, most things work out, if you let them.




And where there are no attractions ashore, such as beach restaurants and bars, there are still delightful anchorages, like that at Ilha Cotia, where you can enjoy peace and isolation.



On our way back to Rio, we met Alain and his wife aboard the nice old Colin Archer Picolo, which they had sailed over from France while they worked in Brazil.



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