Sailing into the New Year on the SY Staatenlos
Do you think sailing into the new year was a breeze?
It kind of was. We traversed the Atlantic waters that separate the islands of Cape Verde, successfully navigating a channel effect and discovering a mountain village paradise.
But traversing this African archipelago did involve circumventing covid-1984 restrictions that eventually landed the SY Staatenlos crew in the back of a police car on the way to get jabbed with needles.
We survived, but what kind of impression did this leave? Read on and find out how we welcomed in 2021 in Cape Verde.
We left off from our last entry having sailed from the Canary Islands to Cape Verde, where we celebrated Christmas in the port city of Mindelo.
The SY Staatenlos would sail away from the marina of Mindelo on the island of São Vincente on the first day of the New Year. Between Christmas and then, most of the crew and I went to tour the island of Santo Antão.
The Dutch guy and French girl who had joined us in the Canaries stayed on board the boat while the rest of us went to explore the other island. They felt safer in the marina, and it was good to have someone stay with the boat anyway.
Before we could go to Santo Antão, we had to deal with a bit of bureaucracy. I mentioned in my last blog that we had to show proof of a negative PCR test and register the boat’s arrival to São Vincente. However, because it was a weekend and a holiday, we had to wait until Monday to complete these requirements.
We couldn’t leave Mindelo until we took care of all the formalities at the customs and immigration office, which took some time and almost made us late to the next island.
After finishing the paperwork, we had to go buy tickets for the ferry to Santo Antão. Then I had to dash back to the marina with just five minutes to pack my stuff and get back to the ferry. By the time I got back, the ferry was already boarding. I managed to get on just in the nick of time before they shut the doors.
Luckily, that was the end of the bureaucracy – for now. Because it’s only an hour ferry ride between these two islands, no additional covid testing was required to travel between them.
Serenity in Santo Antão
Santo Antão is the mountainous sister island of São Vincente which is great for hiking and walking around. After having seen all the other islands of Cape Verde, I can now say that Santo Antão is my favorite, or at least it was my favorite part of this trip.
We stayed for three days and two nights at a very nice guesthouse in the mountains which had absolutely no guests other than our group. We planned to hike around the island with a guide named Edson who came highly recommended online. He picked us up from the ferry in his car and took us on a very nice tour of Santo Antão.
There is a nice new road which goes all the way around the island, but we opted to take the old mountain road instead. The Portuguese cobblestone mountain road is truly a marvel. That first day, we were unfortunately met with quite foggy, rainy weather.
Even though we couldn’t see very much, it was still nice to travel down that road. We would take it again two days later with better weather conditions, which would enable us to see some amazing views as well.
We spent most of our first day driving along this old mountain road to explore the island and check out some nice viewpoints, although the weather prevented us from seeing too much.
We visited a town in the north where we stopped at a very nice local house. The lady of the house served us a delicious lunch, which turned out to be one of our favorites in all of Cape Verde. The meal, which was full of fresh vegetables and meat, was served alongside grog, which is a very strong homemade sugar cane liquor.
We spent the rest of the day driving around to see other viewpoints and different facets of the island.
The next day, we did the famous Ponta do Sol Coastal hike, which goes for about 15 or 16 kilometers through the high cliffs of the northern coast. The hike was quite arduous as it led us up, then down, then up again, then down again, and so on.
Even though it was strenuous and went on for many miles, the scenery along those coastal cliffs was amazing, and I got some great footage on the drone.
As we hiked, we came across a small town called Fontainhas, which is only accessible by foot. I think it is one of the most beautiful little towns in the world, nestled right there in the mountains.
The Spanish version of National Geographic agrees with me, as they named Fontainhas as number two of the top ten villages with the best view in the world.
The next day, we went on another big hike to the Cova crater, which is a huge volcanic caldera. There is a small village inside of the crater, where some agriculture such as sweet potatoes and sugarcane are produced.
We started with this hike in the crater and then walked into the valley of Paul down below, which is almost back by the coast. The hike was something like 1,200 meters downhill, which was quite difficult for all of our knees. However, the cobblestone path wasn’t too hard to walk on, and the scenery made the trek well worth it.
The valley looked incredible, so green, full of fruits, and surrounded by these amazing, towering cliffs. We very much enjoyed it and I even entertained the idea of buying some property in this beautiful valley.
We gave thanks to Edson, who had been a fantastic tour guide, and took note of his recommendations for some of the other islands. We did a little bit of shopping, then returned to Mindelo by ferry later that day on December 30th.
If you want to visit Santo Antao, definitely give Edson a call and he organizes a great tour for you (his Whatsapp: +2389574472)
Ringing in the New Year
December 31st was our last day in Mindelo as well as the last day of 2020. We took it pretty easy that day and didn’t do too much.
First we “checked out” of Mindelo early because it was another holiday weekend (just like Christmas), so the customs and immigration offices would be closed the next day.
If we had waited, we may have been stuck there for another four days, so we just explained to the officials that we intended to leave early the next day, which would be the first of the new year.
We enjoyed a fairly quiet New Year’s Eve on the boat. We were joined by an African guy named Kevin, who I mentioned in the last blog had helped clean the boat upon our arrival. Kevin lives in a cool villa which I didn’t get a chance to visit, but Josh and the other guys from the boat did. They had a great time, which you will be able to see in an upcoming Youtube vlog. Kevin joined us on the boat to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and he brought his wife, who wore a very beautiful dress. We all had some drinks and played Mario Kart aboard the boat.
Some of the other boats fired off their flares in celebration, which looked like light pistols shot into the air. There were also a few scattered fireworks, which were nice to see, and live music was being played nearby, which we all enjoyed. All in all, it was a pretty cool, albeit a rather low-key evening. We ended up going to bed quite early at around one in the morning because we planned to leave early the next day.
Island Hopping into 2021
We wanted to spend the first day of the new year just sailing around, so that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t leave Mindelo quite as early as I expected, but we still left before noon.
We sailed all around the island of São Vincente. Because we had come from the north, we basically sailed west and then south, and we saw nice scenery all along the coast.
There were beautiful cliffs, lighthouses, and beaches, all of which are inaccessible by land and can only be seen by boat. After that, we headed for Santa Luzia.
Santa Luzia is the tenth biggest island in the archipelago, which is why it’s always referred to as the tenth island of Cape Verde. Despite not being the largest island, Santa Luzia has a beautiful national park that is well worth seeing. It’s prohibited to go there at the moment, but because we’re long gone now, I can tell you a little bit about it.
We found a nice spot to anchor in the waters of Santa Luzia, where only one other boat was anchored. We did not actually set foot on the island, we just stayed on the boat, let the drone fly, took amazing aerial photos, and enjoyed the beautiful views. We spent the first night of the new year anchored there and enjoyed some tasty steak for dinner.
The Channel Challenge
The next day we sailed to the island of São Nicolau, which is pretty much the middle island of the northern group. It took about five hours to sail to São Nicolau that day, and we got to experience the channel effect of the Cape Verde islands first-hand.
Sailing around Cape Verde is quite demanding, largely because of the wind. There are strong winds which are like tradewinds that cause what’s known as a “channel effect” in the water. The open sea surrounded by mountainous islands sometimes causes something of a “channel,” which may get very fast or be touched by no wind at all, so it can be quite tricky to predict.
We experienced that effect on our way to Raso, the little sister island of Santa Luzia. I instructed the crew to sail on the other side of the island because I thought it would be easier, but then we dropped from about thirty knots of wind to zero, which meant we had no breeze propelling us forward. In the end, it did turn out to be the best decision though. We were better protected from the waves on the other side of the island, and the wind eventually picked up again and led us to our destination.
After some hours of sailing, we made it to Tarrafal de São Nicolau, which is one of the two main towns of São Nicolau. We anchored there, took a little dinghy from the boat to the coast, and had a first nice dinner in São Nicolau.
Okay, “nice” might be too strong of a word. We actually went to the only restaurant in town that was open, and all they had on the menu were fish and hamburgers. As you can imagine, after so much time at sea among the fish, we all ordered the burgers. Well, not all of us. We had two vegan girls on the crew at the time. Of course, they wanted to order something too, but informing the restaurant staff of their dietary restrictions was no easy feat.
It took something like half an hour for them to make it clear to the staff that being vegan means they won’t eat red meat or fish or chicken or eggs or milk or cheese, etc. Before our burgers arrived at the table, these girls were served vegetable soup – with fish and chicken. They sent it back and ordered just vegetables instead, which the people at the restaurant finally understood.
At long last, they got their vegetables, and we got our burgers. Although, honestly, I don’t know that you could even really call it a burger. Anyone who has read my blog before knows how much I love meat, but even I was reluctant to take a bite of this thing. One thing I can’t complain about from that meal was the fries, which were fairly decent.
The next day, we explored the island of São Nicolau. We met a guide who is friends with Edson, our Santo Antão guide. The tour guide picked us up in a car and took us all over the island to see the sights.
São Nicolau has very beautiful scenery, with high cliffs similar to those we saw in Santo Antão, but not quite as tall.
We visited a few towns including Ribeira Brava, the capital of the island, which was founded inland to escape pirate attacks on the island in the 17th century.
Next, we went to a fishing village that had amazing views of the local volcano and saw how they spearfish there.
Then, we drove to the northern coast and took photos at a couple of nice viewpoints.
In the end, we went to a rock formation that had a very nice natural pool full of waves. We had a refreshing swim there before heading back to the boat.
Catamaran Crew in a Cop Car
Generally speaking, the coronavirus restrictions in Cape Verde are not too strict. While it is technically mandatory to wear a mask (even outdoors!), very few people actually wear them. I would estimate that maybe 20% of the population of Cape Verde bothers to wear a mask, depending on the island, sometimes more, sometimes less. No one harasses anyone for not wearing masks. Other than the mask mandate, there are mostly just normal sanitary protocols on the islands. Covid testing is required for traveling between some of the islands, although we mostly circumvented that requirement – “mostly” being the keyword here.
We got into trouble in São Nicolau because we needed a covid test. Mindelo is considered a high risk area because they have so many cases there, so we needed to take an antigen test. Unlike the PCR test which we did by saliva on the Canary Islands, the rapid antigen test is (unfortunately) a blood test. We were supposed to take it before we left Mindelo, but obviously, we didn’t. Even though we had already been on the island for two days, police officers in São Nicolau demanded that we must get tested. 😡
We were invited to go in the police car, so we caught a ride with them to the local hospital. There we waited for half an hour to get jabbed in the finger by a needle. They took a little blood for the antigen test, and we all came out negative. I didn’t feel so great afterward though, because I don’t like needles. We were all glad when it was over.
That turned out to be the only test we did in all of Cape Verde. We were required to take a test before leaving Fogo, and Praia as well, but we argued with the authorities that we had just been tested a few days or weeks before, so we were able to avoid doing it again.
Goodbye São Nicolau
After the test, we were ready to leave São Nicolau, but first, we had to say goodbye to a couple of crew members. The Dutch guy and the French girl stayed behind in Tarrafal de São Nicolau. They had to go back home to work after their adventure sailing from the Canaries to Cape Verde. They thought it would be easy to book a flight last minute from São Nicolau, but they were wrong and ended up having a very difficult time arranging their journey home. The flight from São Nicolau wasn’t leaving in time according to their schedule, so they took the ferry back to Mindelo and tried to figure it out from there, which I’m told was only the beginning of their problems.
The remaining crew of the SY Staatenlos was ready to say goodbye and sail onward, so we set off into the great blue sea, excited to see what the rest of the islands would have to offer. Join us next time to explore the rest of the Cape Verde islands!