We found what appeared to be the perfect anchorage; the shore of steeply rising Ilha da Gipoia a few metres away, covered with every shade and texture of verdant forest. Trees soar upwards, supported on tall, narrow, grey trunks, their foliage finally bursting outwards, finding light, and every nook beneath crammed with prolific, lush growth. Typically the land, clothed in profusion of green dotted with mauve, drops abruptly to a round bouldered shore lapped by the sea.
Intermittently along the pristine shores of this particular island, conveniently close to the mainland, the tasteful homes of the wealthy, most of them thatched and set back from the water, are tucked away under large, shade trees. Soft manicured lawns rise up the slopes, often from private piers, under tilting coconut palms.
Ilha da Gipoia is one of the 365 islands of the Ilha Grande group west of Rio de Janeiro, whose waters have been described as the ‘filet mignon’ of Brazilian cruising.
Thus our quest for peace and tranquility amidst the Easter weekend and its invasive armada of mostly huge motor cruisers and jet skis, owned by the affluent from nearby Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro and taken out of mothballs for the holiday. As soon as we had anchored in this spot and felt the reflected waves from nearby islands and the wake of distant power boats, we realised why monohulls avoided this particular bay – they would roll whilst we were fine.
Arriving in Brazil
We had arrived at the eastern end of Ilha Grande a few days prior, fatigued from meagre sleep after 27 days at sea from St Helena in the mid Atlantic. Relying on our Navionics charts, we felt our way into the bay of Enseada das Palmas and anchored close to the beach, near a few other yachts. A sundowner in the balmy evening air, followed by dinner and a shower on the aft sugar scoop and we fell into bed, sleeping blissfully through till morning. Thankfully it rained, washing off the salt from Moondust’s top sides and the next morning, with more rain, we laid out cockpit cushions, floor mats and towels to remove accumulated salt and recuperated after our first ocean crossing.
With its reputation we should have expected this area to be popular, but were nevertheless surprised. From around midday ferry loads of tourists arrived to enjoy the beaches and amenities provided by the discreetly situated restaurant and hotel. No matter the light rain, it was so warm that beach goers were happy to stand in it, until the shower passed. Towards sundown, in response to the ferry horns, they flocked back on board and were taken around to Abraao in the next bay from where they caught the much larger ferry to the mainland.
We slowly made our way towards Angra dos Reis, our port of entry, finding quiet spots to anchor, bay by bay. We were apprehensive of the language barrier, which is apparently the reason why many sailors avoid Brazil. Very few people speak English and on top of it Brazilian Portuguese is apparently quite different from European Portuguese.
Our repeated radio calls to Angra dos Reis Port Control requesting permission to enter elicited no response, so we sailed to the head of the bay and anchored outside Marina Pirata, which we had read about in our aged Brazilian Cruising Guide.
Clearing into a country when one travels by sea is quite different to when you travel by air or land. It is the sailor’s responsibility to find the Immigration and Customs offices, as well as the local Port Captain, to clear in.
It was 16:00 by the time we had anchored, too late to start entrance formalities, so we took the dinghy ashore to start our shopping. We rowed into the marina, tied up at the courtesy dock and walked up the ramp into the shopping mall. As easy as that! In no time we had a Brazilian SIM card, drew some cash out of the ATM and began the task of re-stocking Moondust.
The next morning we got some much needed exercise walking to the Policia Federale (Immigration), where we learnt that the office we needed had moved to near where we had started out. Hot and sweaty by then, we took a taxi, only to learn that we had indeed been close to the right building before. Luckily our taxi driver was still waiting outside. Back across town the immigration officer indicated that we could extend our stay to six months.
Customs clearance was also simple and we were permitted to use one of their computers to make the online customs declaration. The last stop was at the Port Captain’s office a few blocks away, where a stocky, serious young man in sailors’ uniform, with an equally serious post nasal drip, politely and efficiently cleared us in. He seemed intrigued that two oldies had sailed here all the way from Cape Town.
We were thrilled about the time extension as we had been concerned how we would make our way north along the nearly 6 000 km of Brazilian coastline after consuming much of our visa time here. It was now possible to contemplate a trip to the fabled Island of Fernando do Norohna, four days’ sailing off the north east bulge of Brazil.
Amazed to have made such progress, we taxied back to the marina, grabbed loads of washing, mostly bulky sheets and towels, and deposited them at the laundromat. Then we hit the supermarket again for another huge load of provisions, not the least being yeast and kilos of flour for Karin’s bread making. A last minute decision to buy a fan for the windless, hot, clammy days and we were done and ready to leave the next morning after a final ‘top up’ shop. It takes good planning to provision for weeks at a time!
Exploring the Atlantic rain forests of Ilha Grande
Cleared in and restocked we set off to explore. From a pamphlet we had picked up at the ferry terminal in Abraao on our way in, we noticed tracks running around the larger islands, connecting the coastal settlements. Keen for some exercise we did several hikes, some along the coast and others crossing over saddles to nearby bays.
Despite the mostly shaded tracks, the humidity and heat encouraged early starts to our hikes. The Atlantic rain forest was a constant source of wonder.
Cloistered creepers and vines trail from every available support, groves of tall bamboo gracefully burst skywards, orchids cling to tree trunks, elephant ears abound and flitting amongst the trees are tiny, alert marmoset monkeys, no bigger than a hand, which peer at us, full of curiosity, heads bobbing in all directions. It is interesting to find these plants, considered exotic in our gardens, growing wild.
On one of our hikes we passed by two tourist beaches before we turned around at Longa, a quaint fishing village.
Arriving at the beach, we passed the local pub, where we ordered cold beer shandies, coca cola substituting admirably for lemonade to fortify us for the hike home. We failed in our conversational efforts with other early drinkers, but discovered that with an internet connection and Google Translate, language needn’t be a complete stumbling block.
Doing some island hopping
We spent some time moving around these islands, anchoring for a few days in each spot. The islands are close together and we would choose another spot, zoom in the chart plotter map to see if the water and forecast wind direction would be suitable for anchoring, then move on.
We thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of cruising and anchoring in beautiful bays.
We found the local birds mostly strange to us inbound from Africa; raptors and the green parrots being the least unfamiliar. A local variety of vulture abounds, about the size of a turkey, these are gregarious creatures, often gathering on the beaches and allowing us to approach. The sea birds are angular creatures, needle-like at beak, tail and wing-tip.
We also did the obligatory ‘circumnavigation’ of Ilha Grande, stopping at attractive bays at will. We discovered that fishermen rather than tourists ruled on the western and southern side of the island. The chart plotter merely shows bays suitable for anchoring, but we soon learned that all of these had been ‘colonised’ by fishermen, with quite large fishing fleets at anchor. Spending one night in the Marine Reserve on the south west of the island, we found that the water was too murky for snorkelling and the prohibition on fishing wasn’t enforced. So, after an abortive attempt to surf our river raft and seeing a few sea turtles and some tropical fish in the murk, we set sail again.
Next, after beating our way east into the wind, we anchored and spent a peaceful night off Praia Lopes Mendes, rated amongst the top five beaches in Brazil. Needing to leave early the next morning to find cell phone signal to organise payment for our replacement GoPro (but not the drone!) we vowed to return with family members, whose visit we were looking forward to in a short while…