Sailing Passage from Cabedelo, Brazil to Cayenne, French Guiana
Aided by the strong Guyana Current, at times we were surfing the 3-meter Atlantic waves with record-setting speeds for Seefalke of 8 to 9 knots, smashing our single-day record by more than 60 nautical miles. But as we entered the Doldrums of the ITCZ, we needed to motor sail just to make around 1.5 knots at times. It was the definition of one step forward and two steps back.
In the end, it took us 12 days to make the 1,400 nautical mile trek from Cabedelo to Cayenne.
At times we had perfect sailing with strong wind and heavy current propelling us forward. At other times, we virtually sat still.
It was a long passage following a long land layover. We had mundane and even somewhat boring days where the landscape and the routine never changed.
But we were often reminded of one thing—never tempt Neptune by complaining about being bored. He will make you pay!
Monday, 3 June 2019
After sitting in port for three months, we checked out at customs and immigration—an all day procedure—and began final preparations for departure. We had plenty of time on our visas because we had both left the country during our stay in Brazil. However, we had no time left on our ability to keep the boat in Brazil any longer.
So we made the decision—or rather the decision was made for us—to plan a passage straight to French Guiana rather than making some stops along the way at some of the coastal Brazilian islands we wanted to see. This also solidified our decision to skip the Amazon Delta.
Tuesday, 4 June 2019
We made our final big provision run and stocked up on food, water, and supplies. I spent a lot of time securing the cabin, something we hadn’t needed to do for three months. We also did a final round of laundry and said goodbye to the Cabedelo locals who had become our family for three months.
Around 16:00—high tide—we untied the lines and moved to an anchorage just outside the marina. This way, we could depart early the next morning without worrying about the tides and without needing to coordinate with marina staff to release us from the mooring buoys.
We had made plans to spend our final evening with some dear friends aboard SV Redemption. The captain, Des, is a cool sailor and avid surfer from South Africa. He had sailed solo across the Atlantic, but hooked up with a crew in Cabedelo—20-somethings Isabelle, an American from Washington state, and her boyfriend Tory, an Australian. Neither Izzy nor Tory had ever sailed before.
The previous week we had spent some time with them aboard Seefalke, sharing stories of night watches and seasickness, challenging passages, whale sightings, and other tales sailors love to share. Both Izzy and Tory are surfers and seemed to be enjoying learning about sailing from Des.
This evening, our German sailor friends—Ingo and Andrea—also joined us aboard Redemptionfor an evening of drinks and great conversation.
Ingo and Andrea were leaving their boat, Easy One, in Brazil for a few months while they planned to fly back to Germany to work. We were trying to coordinate with Des and his crew to hook up along the way to French Guiana and perhaps caravan sail a bit.
Redemptionis a very cool ship. It’s about the size of Seefalke, and was once used by Des as a charter boat in South Africa.
It was a lovely evening. We said our goodbyes, for now, and exchanged contact information.
Day 1 at sea — Wednesday, 5 June 2019
Leaving from anchorage, our departure was smooth and easy as we cruised casually down the river. As we were passing the wind shadow of Cabedelo and entering the Atlantic, I crawled out onto our freshly-repaired bowsprit to unfurl the Genoa.
With waves crashing the bow as I balanced on our new bowsprit boards, I could already feel the uneasiness settle in as my sea legs were more than wobbly. It was inevitable and not surprising to once again feel the pit of my stomach begin to rise.
I was seasick all day as I struggled to regain my sea legs. Maik wasn’t feeling well either. One thing that always surprises me, though I should be accustomed to it by now, is how violent the retching can be. And I always forget about how the force of it makes me lose bladder control. In one day, I went through three pairs of panties.
Maik spent some time in the engine room, which didn’t help his queasiness. Our main fuel tank was overflowing into the engine room, so he was sponging out the extra fuel into a bucket then I would empty the bucket into spare 8-gallon water jugs. We were both covered in diesel and the fumes contributed to our continued seasickness.
The only way to get to our engine room is by removing the cockpit floor and lowering yourself down into the pit. It feels like going down the small porthole of a submarine. The movement of the sea is intensified down below and its HOT. It’s also a very tight squeeze. Any work you do in the engine room requires you to be twisted like a pretzel.
I still refused to take seasickness medicine, but I began to consider it.
Day 2 — Thursday, 6 June 2019
82.7 nautical miles — 17:33 hours at sea
During my early morning shift, around 02:00, I continued with the retching and sacrificed another pair of panties. This time, I reluctantly decided to take some Dramamine, which helps a little with the seasickness, but it makes you very sleepy. It’s important to sleep it off after taking it. It wasn’t easy, but I made it the next two hours through my shift to 04:00 then crashed.
At 06:00, just two hours into my sleep shift, Maik decided to go into the engine room and bail the fuel again. I got up to help, still drowsy and loopy from the Dramamine. When I finally got back to sleep an hour later, Maik switched the sails from port to starboard, and I could only slide off the bed right onto the floor. Ugh!
Later that day, I began feeling better and started reading Adrift, an amazing story of one woman’s miraculous survival at sea.
I felt like I was getting my sea legs back a little. I ate and drank some, although I was feeling a bit dehydrated and my head was pounding. It was still unsafe to cook a real meal, but I ate some fruit, peanut butter crackers, and a little canned tuna.
During the day, I got thrown around the cabin a few times as heavy waves continued to crash us and rock the boat severely at times. However, the sailing was fast, fun, exciting, and relatively speaking, smooth.
As usual, Scout joined me for my first night shift.
Day 3 — Friday, 7 June 2019
232.2 nm — 41:35 hours at sea
We recorded our fastest one-day distance ever at 148.9 nm in 24 hours. We generally sail around 100 nm each day, so this seemed like warp speed for Seefalke.
I had a bad headache all day, I believe caused from the seasick medicine. But the retching had stopped. I finally took some Ibuprofen, which helped with the headache and other ailments, like the broken foot I was still battling.
I rested and read most of the day. I finished Adrift, which I thought I was much better than the movie — and started SeinLanguage, which I’ve read several times. The comedy quips from Jerry Seinfeld is a bit outdated, but still funny and I enjoyed the comic relief! I needed some light reading.
We had been trying to contact Des to see where we might meet with Redemption. He finally sent us a message through our Garmin Satellite and informed us that he lost his crew, but we didn’t know the whole story, yet.
Maik made egg and sausage quesadillas although it was still a bit uncomfortable to cook. The seas had smoothed a bit, and we moved the mainsail back to the port side which was more comfortable for sleeping.
I was finally getting my sea legs back but still feeling dehydrated. I must continue to drink more water, I reminded myself.
During the early night shift we had a little squall. Winds were at 20 knots and we were flying at 9 knots compared with Seefalke’susual 5-6 knot top speeds. It was short lived even though we hit a few more rain patches during the night.
There were more squalls during the early-morning shift, with heavy rain and huge wind gusts. At one point, it got very calm and still and dark all around us, and I felt like we were inside a cone of blackness. I couldn’t see a thing, but I could hear the wind whistling and howling and the waves crashing around me even though it felt like we weren’t moving.
Then the rain stopped. It was still. Black. Eerie.
Day 4 — Saturday, 8 June 2019
396 nm — 65:21 hours at sea
At 164 nm, we beat our 24-hour distance record again. We were flying!
It’s about this point in every voyage when you begin to lose track of the clock and the calendar. We rarely know what day it is or the time.
I wasn’t feeling well during my midnight-04:00 shift and decided to take some Dramamine. But that meant I needed to sleep.
Two hours later, Maik decided to bake homemade bread. Pans and pots were clanking all over and maniac stirring was happening. Ugh!!! I tossed and turned and moaned and complained, but he didn’t get the message.
Without the sleep after the medicine I had a pounding headache. But man, the bread sure was delicious!!
It was a rough and rocky day but I managed to get a deck shower (my first of this passage) and it felt so good to be clean and have clean hair. I still felt queasy all day, but managed to fend off the retching for another day. Even with some uneasiness, we were settling into a good routine, and the sea legs felt stronger.
We heard from Des via our Garmin InReach, and he gave us the details about his crew’s desertion.
Apparently, Izzy and Tory just decided they didn’t want to sail and was disillusioned about the sailing lifestyle so they took off and left Des stranded. I found this so irritating and confusing.
First, Des had delayed his departure several weeks waiting on his crew to arrive. Also, had we known, Des could have departed with us and had some company. This is one of the many reasons we would probably never pick up crew we don’t already know and trust. Izzy and Tory really let Des down and it angered me. Mostly I was confused because they seemed enthusiastic about the adventure.
Day 5 — Sunday, 9 June 2019
561 nm — 89:31 hours at sea
We had now passed the 6,000 mile mark for this entire voyage. It’s strange because we thought it would take us 6,000 miles to get from Stralsund to Gulf Shores, and we are now still about 3,000 miles away. This is why sailors rarely live by schedules. We would miss so much!
Scout, my ever-faithful night-watch companion continued to stay by my side as my night shifts became “our” night shifts. Cap’n Jack prefers to cuddle up next to Maik and sleep soundly while the girls stay on watch.
I can’t remember the last time I slept as hard as I did during my sleep shifts this night. Usually, I either wake up on my own just before my shift or a simple, soft-spoken “Baby, it’s time,” from Maik in the cockpit is enough to wake me. This time, at midnight, Maik had to physically shake me to wake me. And again on my next sleep shift it took both Beagles licking my face and pouncing on my tummy to wake me from the deep sleep.
We spent the morning cooking because it was unusually calm. We wanted to take advantage of the smooth conditions. Maik baked another loaf of fresh bread, and I made a pasta dish, all before 10:30 am. This way, we had good meals already prepared for the day in case conditions got rocky again.
I decided to lay down and read a while and fell once again into a deep slumber. I usually dream heavily, but this time I just crashed and woke up about three hours later without moving a muscle.
I don’t know if my body was just catching up on previous lack of sleep or if we are just simply finally settling into a comfortable sea routine. Maybe it was the smooth seas and cool breeze that just numbed my body and sent me into complete relaxation.
We were about halfway to our destination, and we kept busy the rest of the afternoon with basic boat chores and our regular routine.
Around sunset, we crossed the Equator again and entered the Northern Hemisphere. We crossed it the first time during our Atlantic Crossing. Without much fanfare and with no cameras recording, we popped one of our mini champagne bottles, gave a toast and a sip to Neptune then sipped the rest as we cuddled and kissed, admiring the sunset with the deep blue waves splashing all around us. It was private and sweet and a special moment just for us.
We reminisced about how far we’ve traveled and how different this Equatorial Crossing was from the first one just a few months ago. First, it wasn’t nearly as devastatingly hot! Also, we had been there before although it was still special in its own way.
We also realized that as we were sailing over the Equator, the Amazon River was directly west of us. We were about 300 miles offshore so of course, we couldn’t see it. We know we made the right decision to not sail the Amazon, but still it’s a bummer to be so close to something you want to do so badly and not be able to touch it.
We lamented about it, but only for a moment as we then settled once again into our night watch routine.
Day 6 — Monday, 10 June 2019
703 nm — 113:29 hours at sea
As we entered the Doldrums we began to lose some speed. However, it wasn’t quite as miserable as the last Doldrums experience.
We had a consistent cool breeze and enough wind to make an average of 4.5 knots all day—a considerable improvement from the 1.5 knot speed we traveled the last time through the ITCZ but not nearly as speedy as the 7-8 knots that had propelled us for the past four days.
Today was one of those downright uneventful, mundane days. Maik made more homemade bread and homemade pizza dough. I was so bored I was actually excited about the opportunity to wash the dishes!
Otherwise, I read most of the day and relaxed and wondered why I didn’t enjoy the lack of busyness more. It’s something I don’t get often and should learn to embrace and appreciate.
Maik was worried about the engine overheating so we did a trial 2-hour test and it passed with a steady 78-degree temperature. A big relief. Also, it seems we got the fuel leak under control. The good news is right now we don’t really need the engine, but the better news is it’s not overheating or overflowing diesel.
Scout lounged on the deck almost the entire day. She really loves being at sea and rarely wants to be in the cabin. She loves being in the fresh salt air with her velvety ears flopping in the wind.
It was such a calm evening, I pulled out my laptop during my early night shift and watched some of the TV series I had downloaded, “Friday Night Lights.” It helped pass the time once it became too dark to read. Of course, I religiously make my checks every ten minutes, even though we often go for days without seeing any other ships on these offshore passages. I can’t always pull out my laptop in the cockpit due to heavy saltwater splashes or sudden squalls. But on this night, it was calm and dry.
Day 7 — Tuesday, 11 June 2019
805 nm — 137:27 hours at sea
Sometimes on these long passages, night simply turns into day and day turns into night. It can get very mundane and boring.
I relished a shower and more rest. It was hot today as we made our way through the doldrums. I really wanted to jump in and take a swim but the swells and waves were too big, making that a dangerous proposition. I read an entire book today, Female Intelligence, a goofy romance novel.
Maik and I played Scrabble on the iPad for a little while, but it made Maik queasy so we stopped. Even though I tend to get more seasick than Maik, for some reason I am better able to handle looking at a screen or reading while at sea. These two things make Maik uneasy so he mainly listens to audible books.
Around sunset, we began to pick up some wind and some speed—a clear sign that we had moved north of the doldrums and into the NE Trade Winds. We had a bright orange sunset directly in front of us and the sky and water behind us was pastel pink.
Day 8 — Wednesday, 12 June 2019
917 nm — 161:29 hours at sea
I readanother entire book, this time a true crime piece by my favorite reporter, Edna Buchanan. Conditions were smooth and steady all day—just the way I like it! I mentioned to Maik how I wished we had been able to make a shorter passage after the three-month layoff rather than jumping right into another long passage. But it was out of our control this time. I was feeling ready to reach our destination.
He pointed out that this passage from Cabedelo to French Guiana puts us a third of the way to Alabama from Brazil. It will be our second longest passage to date and not much shorter in terms of distance (about 1,400 nm) than the Atlantic Crossing (just under 1,700 nm).
Day 9 — Thursday, 13 June 2019
1058 nm — 185:28 hours at sea
Maik made a huge breakfast for us—bacon, eggs, and sausage. Yummy! It’s such a treat to actually have a fridge now so we can store meat and enjoy COLD drinks.
We didn’t have much wind today, which meant we slowed a bit and also felt the blazing heat more. We cranked the motor on for a few hours just to give the boat and the air some movement.
We both took late afternoon showers to wash off the layers and puddles of sweat. Once the brilliant orange sun set over the horizon, the evening was nice and cool and breezy.
Day 10 — Friday, 14 June 2019
1,173 nm — 209:30 hours at sea
It never fails. We always pay for it when we complain about being bored at sea. It’s almost as if Neptune hears us and says, “You’re bored? Fine. I’ll give you something to do.”
It was about 22:30, and I was sound asleep. Maik yelled down from the cockpit, “Baby, get up here. I need your help!”
I bolted out of bed and went straight to the cockpit. Maik was already in the stern pulling away the cushions to get to the locker that contains the hydraulic steering system. He told me the rudder wasn’t working. He said he heard a sound that he thought was a motor boat in the distance. It was the hydraulic pump trying to move the piston.
The piston was moving but the rudder wasn’t moving. He could see that the connection had come loose.
Maik said he first thought he had run over a fishing net that had blocked the rudder. He checked to see if anything was in the water—any kind of debris that could have blocked the rudder. When he turned the wheel, the tiller didn’t move at all.
His second thought was that we had lost hydraulic oil in the hydraulic system. Perhaps one of the hoses had come loose. He opened the box to check on that and to switch from hydraulic steering to mechanical steering. There is a bypass valve that allows the oil to move freely when the hydraulic system is not moving it.
Then he saw that the rudder quadrant had come loose from the piston. For some reason, a board was blocking the movement and caused the piston to break loose from the quadrant. It could have been a sudden movement or something that happened over time.
Maik sent me to the stern deck so I could hold the tiller securely in the neutral position so that he could line up the piston to the the connector.
We were swirling around slowly in circles but since conditions were calm and there was hardly any wind, it was not a dangerous situation. We were in 1,000-meter deep waters with no ships in sight. There was plenty of room to maneuver.
Then I moved back to the cockpit to guide the steering wheel into the center position so Maik could attempt to join the two pieces. He was still in the stern cabin, holding back the cushions, flashlight in hand, trying to make the connection.
I transferred back and forth from the stern tiller to the cockpit wheel about four or five times until Maik was able to connect the two parts.
The whole time, dozens of large ants had surfaced from somewhere in the stern and were crawling all over Maik while he worked.
Once all was secure we checked to see if the manual hydraulic steering would work. It was working so we re-engaged the auto pilot. This all took about an hour and 15 minutes in the black of night.
This is how Maik describes the exact same episode, according to his official captain’s logbook entry:
22:30 rudder malfunction. All hands on deck. Genoa down. Piston came loose. Repaired. Rudder ok. 23:45 Genoa up. Ants.
I suppose it’s all about your perspective. :)
Maik told me to go back to sleep for a little while. When he woke me around 01:30 and I took the helm, a bright, full moon with a red ring was casting the most magnificent glow onto the calm water. A few dolphins showed up, but they were just fishing and passing through, not stopping to play.
We won’t be complaining about boredom anymore!
It was another scorching hot day. We were beginning to see signs of life—lots of birds, which usually means we are not far from land.
At one point, I went to the deck to douse myself with a bucket of cool sea water. In the distance, off the bow, I saw a huge pod of dolphins swimming toward us. Then I noticed another pod coming from the south of us from the port side. The dolphins were leaping into the air and showing off their acrobatics. Then I noticed another group of dolphins coming from the starboard side. They were coming from all directions as if they had never seen a ship before and they all needed to congregate at our bow.
We’ve seen many dolphins at sea, but we agreed we had never before seen this many at one time. There were literally hundreds of them.
They stayed with us for a while until we found ourselves inside a seaweed island. The dolphins just disappeared and we slowed to a crawl as we worked our way through the thick debris.
About an hour later, we noticed a squall on the horizon so we battened down the hatches and got ready for a little rain storm. We were so happy to have the cool rain that we both showered on the deck using the fresh rainwater and enjoyed the downpour.
I made a Waffle House-style hash-brown bowl for dinner with eggs and bacon and cheese. It was delicious and very hearty!
As I settled into my early-evening night shift, I finished reading my latest book, Sex on the Moon, about the famous Moon Rock Heist at NASA in the early 2000s. It was an intriguing tale, a true story, recommended to me by my pal, Tom Gallimore.
If you read this blog, you know by now that I love to read while at sea. If you have any good book recommendations, please let me know!
Day 11 — Saturday, 15 June 2019
1,275 nm — 233:27 hours at sea
In sharp contrast to the blistering heat we had experienced the past few days, it was rainy and almost chilly on this day.
What little wind we had was swirling. We had to motor sail most of the day. The sun finally came out and shone brightly around 17:00, giving us about an hour of gorgeous sunshine before time for it to set.
It’s difficult to believe that we are entering our 12th day at sea. It only took us 15 days to cross the entire Atlantic Ocean from Cape Verde to Ihle Fernando de Noranha.
Day 12 — Sunday, 16 June 2019
1,357 nm — 257:20 hours at sea
During the early morning shift, it was so calm and serene. It seemed as if nothing was moving—not the air or the water or even Seefalke. Just still and quiet. It was as if we were frozen in time.
I settled in, cuddled with Scout, and with the help of a small flashlight, I read my latest romance novel, Name Dropping, and enjoyed the relaxing, beautiful stillness.
About 03:30, just 30 minutes before I was to wake Maik, I was doing my 10-minute check and could see a ship on the starboard horizon way in the distance. Just a small little light, proving there was indeed life in the world besides us.
I looked to the port side and the huge glow from the moon revealed a massive storm cell heading right toward us.
I went below and closed all the hatches as a light sprinkle was quickly transforming into a downpour.
As the storm cell moved closer and crossed over from the side of the boat to the bow, all of a sudden, I had zero visibility. I looked toward where I had seen the little light of the ship and it was gone. Disappeared.
I told myself if was moving away from us and was simply too far away to see now. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.
The rain began to pound and the wind began to gust. It was short lived, as these offshore squalls generally are, but I woke Maik a little early ... just in case.
When I awoke in the early morning, we had made landfall! We could see the islands of French Guiana in the distance, formations that would guide us for the next eight hours.
The approach was long, slow, and hot! After starting the passage with warp speed, it now felt like we were moving in slow motion. We drifted for several hours waiting on high tide and then motor sailed into the channel that would guide us to the port in Cayenne.
At 15:40, we dropped the anchor and popped our champagne to celebrate our second longest passage ever.
It always feels gratifying to reach our destination, but as Seefalkesettled into her anchorage, I began to feel a bit wobbly and nauseous.
This time ... land sickness.
Maik’s perspective about the passage:
After a passage of exactly 1,400 nautical miles and 273 hours at sea we finally dropped our anchor in the jungle of the Mahury River near Cayenne in French Guyana.
The passage started in the SE Trade Winds of 5-6 Beaufort with seas between 2 and 3 m, quite a challenge after 3 months on land when you first need to grow your sea legs again. But it was fun sailing and the powerful Guyana Current gave an extra boost so we broke one 24h record after the other.
Still dizzy from the speed rush, the Doldrums hit us hard and our speed dropped significantly when we were in the area of 1°S to 1°N.
After we were all shaken tender now it became time to broil in the brutal Equatorial sun.
But the ITCZ is narrow here on the West side of the Atlantic this time of year and the NE Trades brought us back on the racing track.
Just the last 250 miles felt like slow motion. Trapped in a low wind area we had to postpone our ETA repeatedly.
Finally, well timed with rising water we made the challenging approach into Mahury River. ⚓️
1,400 nautical miles
273:21 hours at sea
Arrival time 15:40,Sunday, 16 June, 2019
NOTE: Maik will be updating his online logbook soon and will include information about how well our new solar panels performed, as well as other technical sailing and equipment details.