When I went off watch last night at midnight we had been roaring along in a full gale towards the island of Sao Nicolau. Later when I came back on watch at 03:00 Mark showed me the maximum speed on his watch, which set the record so far at 12.5 knots. The waves had got even bigger as the gale blew unabated, and he'd had a long surf!
The moon was full and despite the veil of cloud, it lit the sea well so that one could see the waves rear up behind one. By early morning we were running along the southern coast of Sao Nicolau and its mountainous spine was clearly visible in the silver glow. As we rounded the southern-most point the sea shallowed abruptly from 3000 metres to just 100 and if the full swell had still been with us it could well have broken like surf, but we rounded it OK and hardened up to the north towards the port of Tarafal seven miles on. Here we finally dropped anchor in calm water under great cliffs, to the sound of a cockerel heralding the dawn! Once we were happy that the anchor would hold in the vicious squalls funnelling down from the peaks we turned in for a couple of hours of sleep.
Over breakfast we saw that the beach was a tumble of volcanic boulders and black sand. Buildings sprang from the same soil like unripe grey blocks, of which a relatively few mature ones had ripened into vibrant pinks, greens, blues and yellows. In front of us a huge canyon cut back into the mountain, it's alluvial fan dotted with buildings, built by people with so little experience of rain that they appeared to be unaware of the risk of being washed away by a hundred year cloud burst.
I took the opportunity to try sketching the view, and then we watched while a tug towed in a yacht that had apparently been dismasted. A frisson of interest went through all seven anchored yachts and cameras appeared, while squalls blasted spray out of the harbour surface. We had considered a trip ashore, but the need to get to Mindelo was pressing, and we would be required to fill entry forms at the harbour office, so we upped anchor and set off.
Along the south coast was smooth water with sudden squalls, and flying fish passing like plump guillemots. Soon we were out in the roaring sea again with good sized waves occasionally as high as the first spreaders on the mast. We found that the staysail and triple reefed mainsail was a good combination, and had a fantastic roaring sail in 40 knot winds for 50 miles along along the chain of islands to Mindelo, marvelling at the fantastic jagged skylines they presented. Despite the waves breaking over the cockpit I managed a couple of sketches to remind me of the dramatic views.
Sunset came at 19:08 and we eventually turned down the channel to Mindelo in heavy seas and pitch black conditions, cutting inside the rock, Ilheu dos Passaros, guarding the entrance and into a more sheltered bay full of anchored freighters. Amongst these were many anchored yachts and we found a good spot clear of all to drop anchor in 5 metres, letting out 35 metres of chain in order to secure ourselves in the gale.
Mark made a curry and we watched " Where Angels Fear to Tread" the title of which appealed to us after our adventure today. Tomorrow we meet Anne, Beccy, Kyle, Niall and the children and will get on with provisioning do the Atlantic crossing.