Cape Verde Sailing; December 24, 2015 - January 2, 2016

It's been nearly eight years since our last sailing trip, and that one was a doozy: two months cruising the Andaman Ocean during our year of travel. For a few years prior, many of our vacations involved a "bareboat" (no skipper) sailboat rental in some far-flung part of the world. So we were experienced but rusty when we stepped aboard Equinox (photo 1), the 41-foot Lipari catamaran we would sail on our own for eight days in Cape Verde's northwest island group.

It didn't take long for us to be reminded just how protracted everything becomes when a boat is involved, and how frequently things break down, or at least don't work as one would expect. An afternoon in Mindelo was devoted entirely to acquiring groceries and other provisions and getting them onto the boat (photos 2-3, showing just one of several full shopping carts). After our first sailing day the finicky engine on the small dinghy used for going ashore sputtered out and we were unable to restart it; we rowed hard up-current back to the sailboat and regrouped. Anchoring often involved multiple tries to make sure we were set firmly, given the frequent and sometimes extremely high winds. On the other hand, unlike some other boats we've rented, Equinox's marine toilets worked flawlessly, and there were no gas explosions in the kitchen (though the oven lighter eventually failed). And certainly eight years ago we would have been very surprised to come across a "wifi onboard" sticker on a rental sailboat in a place as remote as Cape Verde. Overall, Equinox was an excellent vessel.

The days tend to slip by on a boat. Ours were filled with sailing from one anchorage to another (passages varied from 3-6 hours); going ashore to visit remote beaches or small villages (photos 4-5); snorkeling (arranging to scuba dive would have been somewhere between complex and impossible); reading or playing games; and generally enjoying the ocean and islands from a spacious and comfortable catamaran (photos 6-8). Cooking, eating, and cleaning up are a big part of boat life. Tim's burgeoning interest in cooking meant he now shared chef duties with Jennifer (photo 9), and we definitely saw an uptick in culinary quality and variety. Tim especially enjoyed vegetable shopping in local markets (photo 10).

On one of our passages, in uncharacteristically calm seas, a large pod of dolphins came to the boat and allowed us to snorkel with them for as long as we liked (photo 11); it was magical. In a small village a charming and enterprising boy befriended us, showed us his home and introduced us to his family, then helped us secure a ride to a nearby town -- all with no language in common. He eagerly accompanied us to the town (photo 12), but then requested that we buy him an expensive toy, which somewhat marred the experience. (Ah, the contradictions of travel!)
In the town of Tarrafal on Sao Nicolau island we hired a guide -- personable and knowledgeable Toi from Rotxa Skribida Hiking and Tours -- for an excellent all-day hiking excursion in the island's mountainous interior (photos 13-14).

We were fully aware that Cape Verde is a windy place in general, and that this time of year the winds can be particularly fierce. Indeed, on the roughest days we were sailing in 30 knots of wind with gusts over 40, and 10-foot swells. One overnight felt a bit like a roller coaster in a hurricane. Emily, who was ten years old the last time we were sailing, was slightly dismayed when the reality didn't match her (rather selective) memory of dangling her legs over the side as the bow slices through mirror-smooth turquoise water. There were a couple of occasions that came close, and despite the rigorous conditions, we very much enjoyed being back on a boat.

Some of our anchorages had a few other sailboats overnight, primarily long-term cruisers since there are only a handful of boats for rent in Cape Verde. Mindelo, where we started and ended, is a popular stopover for round-the-world sailors -- Cape Verde is one of the best-located jumping off points for crossing the Atlantic, and Mindelo has a sheltered harbor, modern marina, and good services in town (relatively speaking). We befriended one American who had retreated to Cape Verde after an unexpected storm thwarted his attempt to cross the Atlantic from the Canary Islands.

On the health front, Tim's drastic case of poison oak peaked back in Lisbon and has finally subsided, to his great relief, and Emily's running injury may not be as bad as she feared -- both Emily and Tim went for runs ashore on several occasions. On the other hand, Jennifer sustained one of the most common injuries on a boat: a toe stubbed so badly it may well be broken. Luckily, except for village visits and hikes ashore, one doesn't need one's toes all that much for sailboat living.

With an overnight in Lisbon before 5:00 AM flights to San Francisco and Boston,
Tim and Jennifer are planning to hit the town, skip the sleeping, and get ahead on the time change. It's a final-night-stopover bar-hopping tradition Tim & Jennifer started in Bali and continued in Cabo San Lucas. Who knows where will be next!

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