A few days before the tsunami hit Japan and the horrors that followed life on board Discovery seemed to be almost on autopilot. Cape Verde had been serving up heaping platters of wind and waves and while my list of projects had grown beyond the boundaries of our “to do” whiteboard, none of them were all that critical. Well, other than replacing a prop, which had mysteriously fallen off. A three thousand dollar rather critical component vanished to the sea floor.
We hadn’t moved the boat more than 10 miles in over a month, finding little reason to abandon Sal. Sal is flat, brown, dusty and dry- not a place you imagine when you think of tropical paradise. But in a strange way Sal is also beautiful. The turquoise ocean, fiery sunsets, hardy plants and moonlike landscape all grow on you. And when you’re chasing wind and waves like we are there’s few better places to settle in.
At this time of year Sao Vicente hosts a Carnival festival that we’d heard was second only to Rio De Janeiro’s. As we don’t get many females on board, Martin, my First Mate would probably have abandoned ship if we didn’t go, living for months now without the joys of flirting and mingling with the opposite sex. Our owners Bruce and Rogier were not quite as keen, knowing that a swell was due to arrive and we knew little about the waves to the west. Bryan and his friend Dan from Michigan had lugged our new prop across the Atlantic and when I discovered we needed a particular spacer for the shaft which we could only get in Vicente the decision was made for us. To Carnival!
We sailed all night on a perfect beam reach, slashing across the top of Sao Nicolau and three smaller uninhabited islands that screamed for future exploration before arriving in Mindelo, Sao Vicente, the colorful capital of the northern island chain and Cape Verdes second largest city. The islands to the west of Sal are a shocking contrast from what we’d seen. Visually they seem to belong to another country. Steep craggy buttes reach for the sky and vertical cliffs plunge headlong into crystal clear waters. They were still very much brown, but we’d find out shortly why Cape “Verde” was so named, as thus far it seemed a poorly chosen descriptor.
Carnival was indeed raucous and sexy but I think for Martin it was a bit of an anticlimax. He’d been dreaming, or maybe fantasizing is a better word for a couple months (and I admit to these mind wanderings as well) of hedonism in the streets and scantily clad swaying bodies pulsing to the beat, but the problem for boat-bound people is bed time comes early and parties in Cape Verde don’t get started until well after midnight. We were all half dead by the time things got going! Ahh the pleasures of getting older.
We were all glad to see it but with a swell looming being in port was not an option. We were gone well before Carnival wrapped up the next day, our endless pursuit of simple ocean bound pleasures pulling us like a magnet to a refrigerator. On the south side of Vicente we found a bay called San Pedro that supposedly had the most reliable wind “on the planet” according to an internet post I’d found. In this department it did not disappoint. Rogier’s friend Maurius and Dan were more than happy with the flat water conditions to perfect some absurdly huge jumps and Martin nearly got picked out of the sky by an incoming airplane as the bay is the approach for inbound flights. Luckily Martin didn’t see the plane until it would have been way too late to do anything anyway but I’m sure the pilot got a hell of a fright. Nevertheless, we thought it prudent to leave before they sacked us and the boat.
We took advantage of our proximity to Santo Antao, the highest and most verdant island in the archipelago to spend a day hiking what we’d been told “might be the best hike of your entire life.” I can unequivocally say this is true. Antao is cloud-capped, high, steep and yes- green. We were shocked to find pine forests shrouded in mist and green terraced fields of sugar cane and cabbage clinging to impossibly vertical walls. Quaint cobblestone streets wander through gorges and canyons, sunlight filters through coconut palms and ferns. To get to the starting point of our hike along the NW coast of the island we passed through villages of colorful houses that were somehow defying gravity. These places had no business perched where they were but there they were, where they had been for decades. The whole scene was stupidly surreal and beautiful. Cobblestone streets eventually wind down into cobblestone paths that wander up, down and around for miles and miles; each rock carefully picked and placed by slaves in the last century. It was surely back-breaking work and for me every bit as impressive as the pyramids of Egypt.
Everyone knows I’m not much for plans. Usually when people ask me “so what are we going to do tomorrow?” I don’t have much of an answer. “We’ll do whatever we want” is the closest I can get. So without planning in this way we found ourselves back in Sal. I knew of no better place to get waves. Unfortunately the forecasted swell was a bit of a dud, but it was big enough to thrash me into the rocks and dislocate my shoulder on a drop gone bad while kitesurfing, which would end my wave pursuits for at least a few weeks. This was all about the same time that we got the news of the tsunami so it was awfully hard to feel sorry for myself considering what was happening on the other side of the world. Rogier had also suffered injuries after “kitesurfing” up a small mountain for reasons only he knows. We’ve all had moments like this- times when our brain takes a walk and says- “see you later buddy, you’re on your own for awhile!” He came back to the boat looking like he’d met a human-sized cheese grater.
Pain, bliss, comfort, solitude, ocean, surf. Small pieces of a larger puzzle that sometimes come together not as you hoped or imagined, but probably just as they should.
“I don’t make plans for my life. Because that would destroy what plans life has for me.” Portuguese philosopher