In the Atlantic Crossing part 4, we have arrived in this little island group off the west coast of Senegal and we were all excited to go exploring Cape Verde. The passage from Las Palmas to Sal was extremely nice, and after celebrating Christmas onboard, we were also looking forward to celebrating New Year with new and old friends in Mindelo on Sao Vicente.
This post is a part of The Atlantic Crossing series, and if you missed it, you can find the previous posts in the links below:
Exploring Cape Verde
We were excited as we finally had Cape Verde in sight after sailing for 800 nautical miles and 7 days straight. The northeastern island in the Cape Verde archipelago is named Sal and we were headed towards a small fishing village named Palmeira and looked forward to some exploring.
My friend David onboard Bobbie G and his crew Michael, who had sailed with me on Ellidah for a while, went to Sal last year before setting course to the Caribbean.
They spoke nice words about this little charming island and I was excited to check it out. A culturally small place with very friendly locals and a proper West African vibe with Funana music.
Karolius and Filly were skeptical since there really isn’t a whole lot of action going on here, but I assured them that my friends wouldn’t have recommended the place for no reason.
It is Monday, December 27th, 2021.
I got the first sight of land in the morning on my watch as the sun raised above the horizon revealing a smoking Volcano in the distant orange glare. Sand from the desert made the island appear in a blurry haze and the colors are exactly how you would picture a desert island off the African coast.
The morning coffee tasted extra good as it together with the sun-filled me with a warm sensation and also the feeling of achievement after reaching another distant adventure on our journey.
As we sailed into the anchorage of Palmeira later in the afternoon, we saw that the bay had quite an industrial look to it, and honestly, the anchorage isn’t pretty. The occasional smell of petrol swept by every now and then from the fuel plant ashore and there was a Swedish ship unloading or loading its cargo next to the ferry terminal.
It took some time to set the anchor properly. The first few attempts, it didn’t want to stick. Then we went around to the other side of the many other anchored boats and tried our luck. We were advised by the skipper of another boat that we needed to stay clear of the green markers, so we had to move again and finally managed to set the anchor in a decent spot a bit further out.
Checking Into Cape Verde
The proper procedure for entering a new country under sail is to raise the yellow “Q” flag upon arrival. “Q” stands for “Quarantine” and is to be flown under the starboard spreader until the vessel is cleared into the country. When this is done, the “Q” flag is lowered and replaced with the courtesy flag of the country you have checked into and this is exactly what we did.
Not knowing a lot about this place, I didn’t really know where to check in or how the procedure was going to play out, especially during this terrible Covid time. I radioed Port Control on channel 16 and was instructed to go to the Police station after 11 o’clock.
A bit diffuse, but fair enough.
Luckily, after relaxing at anchor with the mandatory anchor drink, we heard some sparking on the VHF radio again. A Danish guy from one of the other sailboats called up the Port Control and asked for advice on the check-in procedure.
They spoke for a while and we understood that we had to go to the port at 13:00 and wait for a police officer to take us to a Covid test station to perform a test. Then after that, we needed to head to the Police station for immigration and to get the papers and passports stamped.
African Covid Testing
We launched Ellie the dinghy, and the three of us jumped on board and headed off to find the Port Police. As we approached the shore, we saw lots of small wooden fishing boats as well as sailing boats that appeared to be abandoned in the middle of a rope and mooring jungle.
On the Police dock, we met people from a couple of other sailboats, amongst them, the Danish guy who we heard on the radio. From there we went off with a police officer to a tent (or what a while ago might have been a tent) in the backyard of the fishing port. After waiting for about half an hour, a lady came with test equipment and we all got tested quickly and efficiently.
Of course, we forgot to bring money from the boat so Karolius and I went to find an ATM in town while Filly kept the test-lady (sorry, I don’t remember her name) company meanwhile. Not long after, we paid 13 Euro for each test and were told that we had to go to the police station to clear immigration and stamp papers and passports.
But we had to wait until after 16:00. In the meantime, we could go and do what we wanted.
Great! Time to get some lunch and a few ice-cold ones!
Exploring Palmeira – Culture Shock
The three of us wandered back to Ellie and maneuvered ourselves around the mooring jungle to the local fishing dock. Men were busy filleting the catch of the day while the kids were helping and playing around. The woman walked around in colorful dresses with a tray on their head full of hand-crafted sculptures and bracelets trying to sell them to the visiting sailors.
It was all very picturesque and it was without any doubt a cool African vibe to the entire scene. As we bumped into the key, one of the local kids rushed over to grab the line and tied us on. We jumped ashore and he told us that he would keep an eye on the dinghy and keep it safe for us with a huge smile on his face.
“Where do we start?”, Filly asked.
“Let’s just wander around and get lost, I can’t imagine this place to be very big”, I replied.
After waiting for a bit, I was waived into the office by the police officer and gave him Ellidah’s insurance paper, registration, and passports. Standard Procedure. Then he told me that I had to wait for the customs agent to come in to finish the process.
“10 minutes!” he said.
Well, as I learned from my previous African adventures, things do take time. There is the term “TIA” meaning “This Is Africa”. Something you say if things take longer than expected, things don’t work, or if things, in general, don’t turn out as planned.
Shake your shoulders and bite your teeth together. By our west European standards, it can be frustrating, but it is just how things work. 10 minutes is probably more like 20. But it can also be an hour or two.
You never know!
The local Cape Verdian expression is “No stress”. It is even written on signs and local merchandise. It made sense pretty quickly.
So while waiting, we went for a walk again.
Discovering Live Funana Music
We were hungry and started to watch out for a place that looked cool and served food. While walking down one of the streets, we heard some noise and decided to check it out. Some music was playing from behind a fence and the guy at the entrance came toward us with a smile and asked if we wanted to come in.
This was exactly what we were looking for so we went in and had a seat. A local band was playing Funana music. Their instruments consisted of a squared steel bar that was played rubbing a fork against it up and down to the rhythm while the other guy plaid the accordion. A woman was dancing to the music and it all was a freaking cool show to watch! Some seconds later, some beers automagically appeared on the table and we were set.
Check out the video below to get a sense of this awesome vibe and the first impression we got of Palmeira.
After enjoying the music, drinking some beers, and clapping and applauding the artists, it was time to head for some lunch before going back to the Port Police. We found a restaurant that looked kind of like a Western Saloon and ordered ourselves lunch.
Local stray dogs and a very annoying cat were looking at us hungry while we enjoyed our food. Then, of course, it was time for another beer to cool down, the temperature was definitely hot as we approached afternoon. A couple from another boat joined us and we ended up chatting and laughing together for a while before we all headed back to the Port Police. They were on a mission to do the same procedure.
The customs guy was finally behind his desk and he stamped our passports with a smile telling us that we had to come back and check out before going to Mindelo on the other island Sao Vicente which was our next stop in a few days.
Getting Friends With The Locals
What happens next is probably one of the coolest experiences I had on my sailing journey so far. As we are about to leave the Port Police, another sailor approaches us and tells us that we should go and visit this cool bar that sells local hand crafts and rum.
“That sounds cool”, I replied.
“Yeah, and they even let you taste the rum for free,” he said.
“Let’s go!”, the three of us replied at the same time.
“Go to the place down the street with a big sign with a Donkey on it, you can’t miss it” he informed us.
We went to a small shop on a corner and got ourselves some local sim cards with 20GB of data, then headed down to the Donkey Bar.
Friendliness That We Haven’t Experienced Anywhere Else
We found the donkey sign and walked inside, passed a small narrow balcony with tables and a few chairs, before entering a small door that led us into a bar.
A couple of guys in the bar were chatting and drinking a transparent liquid from a glass,
“Probably a local drink,” I thought to myself.
One of them seemed to be the owner and the other was in full police uniform. As soon as they saw us, both of their faces lit up and the guy who looked like the owner threw his arms out and welcomed us.
His name was Nito and he was the owner of the bar and also a police officer he explained. The guy in uniform was his colleague and friend, and this was the place where the police guys usually came to hang out when there wasn’t too much happening.
Which I can imagine was more often than not.
Nito showed us some of the rum that was produced in Cape Verde and insisted that we tasted it. We were easy to ask and had to politely taste of course. Not just the one, but all the different ones. In the end, he served us something he called Grouge and explained that this was the local liquor they usually drink around the islands.
It tasted like a combination of vodka and moonshine and was quite strong, but gave a nice warm feeling down the throat. We ended up sitting down outside on the balcony and ordered a few beers. Nito came out with the beers and sat down to chat with us.
Crossing Path With The Legendary Laura Decker
He was curious about our journey and we told him about the trip so far. I also told him about what I’ve been doing for the last few years. He then told us that he met a young Dutch girl many years ago that was on a similar mission to sail around the world, but that she was very young.
Me and Filly immediately understood who this person was and with big eyes, we asked the question at the same time: “Was it a young girl called Laura Decker?”
Nito’s face again lit up and he replied aloud: “Yes, that was it!”.
That’s incredible. Laura Decker was a Dutch girl that set off to sail around the world at the age of 15 and hoped to be the youngest girl to ever complete a full circumnavigation. She did it, and then went halfway around again and ended up in New Zeeland or Australia.
Laura Decker made an excellent documentary of her journey called Maidentrip and it is probably one of my favorite sailing movies that I show to everyone on board and it is very inspirational. What a small world. Little did I know then that we would actually bump into her in the Caribbean!
But more on that later.
Partying With The Local Police Force
As the beer cans kept appearing on the table, the music also got louder and more people entered the bar. The loud tunes of Funana music were sounding from the old TV on the wall while the guests sat down with us wanting to hear our story.
We talked and Nito translated. A few more came in and some of them spoke English. Some were working in the cargo terminal. Others were police officers. One was the owner of the bar we went to with live music earlier.
Common for them all was that they were all smiling and seemed to enjoy drinking beer and Grogg with us. At this point, we had lost track of the number of beers we had ordered and Nito didn’t seem to charge us for them anymore.
We bought a bottle of local rum earlier when we came in and decided to share it with the locals as they obviously were serving us beer out of their friendliness without asking anything in return.
A tall guy that worked mooring the commercial boats in the harbor didn’t speak English and tried to explain his name to us. There was a lot of misunderstanding and laughing, but in the end, we called him Wifi to his great joy. He was already pretty tipsy and wanted to teach us how to dance to Funana music.
Learning How To Dance Like A Local
“One – two, One -two”, he explained while working his feet and hips. I stood up a bit unsteady and did my best to replicate his move. The rest of the crowd found this to be extremely entertaining and laughed loud and clapped their hands.
The conversation kept on going and we managed to convince Filly to have a dance with Wifi. Wifi was ecstatic in his coverall jumpsuit that he for some reason never changed out of after finishing work and swung Filly around the floor with great engagement. It was the best vibe you can imagine and we were all together having fun, drinking, dancing, and chatting along.
Not long after, Nito’s son came in. He introduced himself as Janito but didn’t speak too much English. However as a clever kid, he understood us quite well and when Karolius pulled up a deck of cards to show off some card tricks, his eyes grew to the size of bowling balls.
Janito watched Karolius’s hands closely with extreme interest as he shuffled the cards around. He gave big applause with a confused look as Karolius managed to magically move the card that he only showed to Janito to the bottom of the deck and in the end revealed it to him.
The kid got so excited, that Karolius decided to teach him the trick. As this scene was playing out, more curious kids were approaching out of nowhere. Not long after, Karolius had a big crowd of big-eyed kids.
As Janito understood the trick quite quickly, he then pulled the same trick on his friends and big applause was again rumbling in the room. This went on for a while and Nito and a few of the other adults seemed to enjoy that we were entertaining the kids.
A little bit later, Nito invited us to stay for dinner with him and his family. They served us grilled chicken with fries and we were humble and grateful for the extreme hospitality we had been shown by these locals. I was an incredible experience, and I would put it on top of the list of cool experiences along this sailing journey.
Approached By The Coast Guard
The following morning was a bit rough. Grogg gives you a proper hangover. The three of us were sitting outside in the cockpit talking about the previous night’s adventure when a Coast Guard RIB approached us and stopped next to Ellidah.
“Ah, ouh!” I thought. “What have done wrong now?”
Two officers were standing in the boat in full suits with automatic rifles and bulletproof vests looking at us seriously from behind their sunglasses. The face was covered by a face mask. We got a bit worried for a bit until one of the guys removed his mask, showing a huge smile.
It was Nito!
“Hey guys, how are you feeling today?”, he shouted.
“Eeeeeh, a bit rough, thanks, how about you?”
“Same same, no stress!”, he replied. “Your Cape Verde flag is upside down, you need to turn it around!” he shouted.
We laughed relieved and told him that we would sort the flag asap.
“You should come by the bar for a beer later, I have some friends coming over tonight that I want you to meet!”, he continued.
We assured him that we would come and say hi later and watched them drive away at high speed.
Playing Cards With The Police Chief
The friend Nito wanted us to meet was the Police Chief. The same man that checked us into Cape Verde. Beers were again appearing on the table in the afternoon as the Chief (I’m sorry that I am terrible with names) explained to us the rules of the card game everyone in Sal plays while explaining that it gets serious when they start taking money.
This card game (which I also, unfortunately, don’t remember the name of) is also one of the sources of disturbances the Police have to deal with on the island. Many get in debt, and while drunk they start to fight. Nito told us that the Police usually just grab the person and drive them home without any further drama and that they don’t really have a lot of crime on Sal.
We planned to sail over to Mindelo on the island Sao Vicente the following day and the Chief told us to come and see him in the office in the morning. Before we left the bar that night, he said that he might not be in the office too early and had a good laugh.
In the morning I headed over to the office again to check out of Sal. The chief was there and we thanked each other for a great previous night and he wished us fair winds as he stamped the paperwork. Then Nito came in and said goodbye, also thanking us for the visit. I told them how grateful we were for this amazing experience.
On the way out of the door, Nito told me to say hi to the Police Chief in Mindelo from him.
Arriving in Mindelo on Sao Vicente
Thursday, December 30th, 2021.
We arrived in Mindelo and dropped the anchor in the bay outside the city. It was the day before New Year’s Eve and our friends from SV Sunday had arrived a couple of days earlier. After catching up with them, we were told that all the cruisers in the bay were going to meet at “The Floating Bar” for a New Year’s Eve party!
After getting checked in to Sao Vicente, we went for a walk to explore a little bit and found this gorgeous beach!
Since we knew the next day was going to be party day, we went back to Ellidah in the afternoon to relax and then went to bed early.
Happy New Year 2022
A big long table was set up for a big group of cruisers and we joined in with them. It was cool to catch up with Ryan and Brittni again from SV Sunday. We also met Fabi and Garrett, some friends we made that were crewing on a boat called Gloria that we met earlier in Las Palmas.
The night went on into the late hours like New Years’ parties are supposed t,o and as a result, the following day was a bit rough.
It was a great party, however!
Sorting Out The Battery Charger And Fixing The Big Red
With the partying done I had to get back to the last preparations for the Atlantic Crossing. The alternator regulator that I fitted in Las Palmas didn’t work and the producer had replied to my mail with some steps I could do to test it and get it to work. After fiddling around with it for a day, I actually managed to get it to work, and not only that, it worked better than expected.
I was now charging 100A from the alternator instead of a measly 30A from the previous solution through the B2B (Battery to Battery) charger which is a huge upgrade!
Then I had to get some repair fabric for the Gennaker since we managed to rip it on the way from Las Palmas. And fix a damaged zipper for my sunscreens.
I arranged for a taxi to pick me up and he drove me up into the valley side to a sailmaker. The sailmaker insisted on us having a shot of Grogg before we could talk business, which I think was fair enough. He told me to come back later and pick up the sunscreens and the fabric, and so I did.
With all that done, we were almost ready for the big trip across the great blue.
Setting Off Into The Big Atlantic Ocean
Monday, January 3rd, 2022.
This was a big day for us. After making it all the way from Spain to Cape Verde, we were finally ready to set sail across the Atlantic. We stocked up on the last provisions before heading into the dock to bunker fuel and water. Our friends Fabi and Garrett whom we met in Las Palmas were also here and they met us at the dock to wave us off.
So far, we had sailed about 1500NM from Gibraltar to here. The next leg was about 2200NM which I expected to do in about 16 days give or take. The forecast looked great with an excellent weather window to give us a good head start. Ellidah was ship shape and in great condition and we looked forward to get back out at sea.
After getting our tanks full, Garrett and Fabi waved us off.
We left the dock 03.01.2022 at 16:00 local time. A few hours later, we saw The Cape Verde Islands disappear behind our stern and all we had around us was the vast ocean once again.
This was the start of the real trip.
A proper blue water journey to cross the big ocean before finally landing in Saint Martin in the Caribbean.
As usual, we made daily updates through our IridiumGo! which will be in the next post out! I really can’t praise this little device enough as on a trip like this, it is the only form of communication we can really rely on out in the middle of the ocean.
If you buy one, make sure you use our link as it will give us a small commission at no extra cost for you!
It also gives detailed and excellent weather forecast as many times a day as we wish and gives us the opportunity to send SMS and calls to the outside world.
Stay tuned for the daily updates, share in social media and don’t forget to drop us a comment below!