Fernando De Noronha

It’s time for another slightly different perspective on this adventure. Dantelle has written this story.

I have been welcomed into a country in many different ways, but one experience that will always stick with me is the one we had in Fernando de Noronha, a small island off the coast of Brazil. As we were approaching the anchorage we were greeted by a playful pod of dolphins, jumping out of the crystal clear, turquoise water, doing flips. A truly remarkable sight! After anchoring next to the local fishing boats, we set off to Customs and Immigration. Besides the language barrier, it was a delightful experience. 

The local port with all the fishing boats out in the back

After a good night’s rest, Lloyd and I set off to explore this stunning island. With snorkels and flippers under each arm we headed to the Marine Park. It is home to turtles, dolphins, reef sharks, manta rays and many more tropical fish. 

Our first stop in the Marine Park was Sancho beach, known as the most beautiful beach in Brazil and popular for its snorkelling. I have never been snorkelling, so I was buzzing with excitement to have my first snorkelling experience. What brochures tell you is that you walk through a forest-like trail for about 5 minutes and then you’re greeted by a spectacular sight, what it doesn’t tell you is that you have to descend down two ladders of about 5 metres, through narrow rock tunnels and then walk down steep steps to get to the actual beach. It felt like Jacob’s Ladder from St Helena island all over again. 

The incredible view from Sancho Beach
White sand and turquoise water

After a snorkelling lesson from instructor Lloyd, we made our way to the water. I have to admit, I wasn’t blown away by the sea life that we saw. A few colourful fish here and there and some rocks, but nothing worth writing home about. We decided to check out some of the other beaches in the Marine Park instead, with hopes of finding some better snorkelling spots. 

We walked 3.5km to Sueste beach, yet again, a beach known for its snorkelling. We arrived there at about 3:30pm, thinking we would have a chance to snorkel, only to be told that the beach closes at 4pm and that we could not hire the mandatory float vests to go snorkelling anymore. We walked along the beach instead, taking in the beautiful sight when Lloyd commented on the murky water in the small bay, saying it was a perfect spot for the nursing of sharks, he was right! Not even two minutes later we saw many baby black tip reef sharks swimming in 10cm shallow waters. Honestly, I wasn’t disappointed that we couldn’t go snorkelling anymore, because mama shark could be lurking around. 

We found the rest of the crew on the way back to the boat, stopped at a restaurant and had some Caipirinhas, a traditional local Brazilian rum/lime drink (very strong), before retiring back to the boat for the night.

Enjoying some drinks on the beach

Waking up the next morning we had to say goodbye to one of our crew members, Monica, who has been on the boat for a good 3 months. We were sad to see our MasterChef leaving as she made some incredible meals on the trip, but she was on to a new adventure. Werner went along with her to the airport while the rest of us went snorkelling in the port, which is not part of the Marine Park, yet had more sea life than the other beaches we had been to combined. 

We saw a turtle before even entering the water and that was only the beginning. The 28°C port water was home to many pufferfish, crabs, zebra fish, disco-looking fish and rock cod. A manta ray made its appearance a short while later. I was very relaxed, looking at some astounding sea life, until Mr1.3m nurse shark swam right under us, and yes, I know it wouldn’t do anything to me, but you try keeping a calm composure with this animal passing so close to you and this is merely the second time you’ve been snorkelling.

We spent a few more days exploring the island and stocking Catching Up with some of the finest Brazilian fruits, vegetables and foods. One of the favourites that was discovered was a wafer biscuit called Bis. It is a chocolate covered wafer biscuit that is incredibly addictive. Other interesting foods were these tear drop shaped fried pastry foods stuffed with potato and chicken. Fernando De Noronha had an excellent selection of fresh fruits like bananas, mangos, pineapples and as many limes as we could carry. After stocking the yacht, it was back to exploring what the island has to offer. 

We sat at the Port Control making use of the free WIFI available when our friends from Elcie, that we met in St Helena, showed up to clear in. They stopped at Ascension Island before making their way to Fernando de Noronha, hence their later arrival. We invited them to have some traditional South African Bobotie onboard Catching Up. They brought us some lovely Mahi-Mahi that they had caught on the way to the island. Having only caught a 6kg tuna the whole trip, we were happy to have some fish, that we didn’t take out of a tin, onboard. After the meal, they went back to their boat and the 5 crew on Catching Up prepared the boat for the passage the next day. A saying in Afrikaans ‘Haastige hond verbrand sy mond’ (all haste no speed) became a reality, when trying to tidy up the boat in a haste, I dropped the aft locker door on my hand, fracturing it… You live and you learn.

I really liked this little island and I didn’t want to leave so quickly, but the Caribbean was calling our name and were ready for the next leg of our trip.

Passage: St Helena to Fernando De Noronha, Brazil

The time had finally come to say goodbye to our friend Andre and our new friends the Benjamin’s. On The 30th of December 2018, Catching Up lifted her mooring lines and set off for Brazil. Originally, we were set to travel to Fortaleza, Brazil however, due to the increasing crime rate it was decided that Fernando De Noronha would be a better option. After contacting St Helena radio to inform them of our departure, they quickly responded with a relay message from SV Bahati a fellow Knysna 500Se (hull 88) that was inbound. Malcolm Van Der Merwe was skippering Bahati to Barbados and then onto Florida and held some of our spares. St Helena radio patiently played back and forth to let us know that we needed to wait a few hours so Bahati could catch up and deliver our spares. After going adrift for a few hours, Bahati finally was around the corner and made radio contact. Malcolm carefully positioned Bahati so her bow was on our starboard side and the box was thrown to us and landed on our trampoline. A few short hello’s and a chat later, Catching Up was off to Brazil!

The first day was as usual mixed with excitement and nervousness at the 1500-mile journey lay ahead of us. Our watch schedule would remain the same so soon it was back into the routine of wake up, eat, sleep watch and repeat. The first night moved on very fast and it was time to celebrate the New Year on Catching Up! On-board we set all our clocks to UTC so we have no issues confusing time zones; as such, we commenced our countdown with 10 seconds to go. We had a Cargo Vessel just passing us as the clock ticked over to midnight. Suddenly a faint little voice on the radio popped up and said “Woo happy new year!” and then silence. It was nice just hearing other boats around the area were celebrating as we were, in the dead of night at a shift change. The days continued to blend together with the only other major highlight being the fish we caught.

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Saint Helena: An Unexpected Gem

The long days of the same view finally broke near lunchtime on Christmas day. I was on watch when this little rock in the distance appeared and grew ever larger. As the Christmas celebrations continued late into the afternoon, it became evident that we would be able to make entry to St Helena by sundown. We put on the engines, raised our full mainsail, unfurled the screecher and made a straight line for the edge of the island. Sure enough, we made it around to the entry right after sundown. We were greeted by an entire hillside covered in Christmas lights combined with the single line of lights from Jacobs Ladder, a major landmark in St Helena. The decision was made to hold off making a night entry, due to it being an unfamiliar destination and instead go adrift right off the island. I spent the midnight to 3am shift staring at this inhabited rock in the middle of the ocean thinking what on earth will we do here!! At 6am I was woken from my sleep by Dantelle sticking her head out of our hatch saying we are about too pick up our mooring. I was called up to the cockpit. I threw on a shirt and some shorts and as I got to the cockpit was instructed to hop off the stern of the boat right onto the massive floating mooring ball. Half asleep, I took the step off the boat onto this bobbing yellow platform. After stabilising myself, we put two mooring lines through rings securing Catching Up to her first international destination. After cleaning Catching Up, we collected all our documents and radioed the St Helena Ferry Service for a pickup to the harbour. After collecting the crew from SV Elcie, this small funny looking boat came alongside us to take us to shore. Landing at St Helena is slightly difficult and is known to have insane swells crashing straight onto the rocky shore. It is famous for its rope swing-landing zone where we stepped off the ferry and had to swing onto the shore. We all made the short walk down from the harbour towards the harbour masters office. Once cleared with the paperwork we were instructed to make our way up to the police station for immigration formalities.

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St Helena is like a time capsule to bygone colonial days. The buildings are all ancient colonial British buildings with a slightly modern feel to them. It felt like I was walking onto the set of some BBC drama. As we made our way up a hill towards the police station, the local population smiled and greeted. The island has a very kind people who are happy to have visitors. Once up at the police station we met one of the local police constables who informed us that immigration was closed and we would need to return a few days later in order to get our passports stamped. We were still welcome to see the island. After filling out the immigration paperwork and the constable inspecting our passports, we were free to walk the island. St Helena has been privy to one member of Catching Up before … when Dantelle was a year old, her mother and father took her on the RMS St Helena to visit the island and the local Benjamin family. The island is small and the Benjamin’s were expecting the crew and Dantelle. Walking back down the hill towards the town, an elderly gentleman asked us if we came in on a yacht and whether Dantelle was perhaps on board, she stepped forward and said hello to the couple, they hugged each other and introductions were made. Eric Benjamin was a former Prime Minister of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan De Cunha Islands. We were given permission by the skipper to spend some time on the island. Dantelle and I immediately returned to Eric’s house to have tea with him and his wife, after a few phone calls the entire Benjamin family arrived and filled their tiny colonial style kitchen! There were numerous discussions on how to show us their “country” as they called it. A few moments later, we were in a vehicle and on our own personal guided driving tour of the island.

The view of St Helena from the ocean is very rocky and barren, yet as you go further inland the vegetation becomes dense and lush. The landscape is incredible and somewhat resembles Wales or Scotland with lovely green rolling hills. I was absolutely amazed at how lush this rocky island was in comparison to the barren and dry coastal area of Jamestown. After our tour, we were taken up to the neighbourhood of Half Tree Hollow that overlooks Jamestown and the water where Catching Up was moored. We went to one of the younger family member’s home for a delicious cooked Christmas lunch. We enjoyed our meal then driven back to the harbour so we could catch the last ferry back to Catching Up. The following day Dantelle and I explored the island, we walked around and decided to climb up the 699 steps of Jacobs Ladder. Once at the top I decided to run down and climb it again getting a time of 10 minutes 30 seconds. The locals are apparently very competitive about seeing who can climb up and down the stairs the fastest, the current record is held by a 14-year-old Saint youngster at 5 minutes 17 seconds. Our climb was steep and tiring as the steps are uneven pieces of rock stuck together making a step. At the top of the steps we were met by another member of the Benjamin family who saw us and offered to take us on yet another driving tour up to the Fort before taking us back to Jacobs ladder so we could descend.

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The next few days included boat work, finding a reliable Internet connection and spending more time with the Benjamin’s. We also made good use of the medical facilities on the island as Mum unfortunately had a bridge with 3 teeth dislodge and fall out and Dantelle had come down with a throat infection. St Helena was also where we would be seeing Andre off, he is our instructor skipper, he’s confident that we are capable of continuing the crossing without him.

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The day arrived and we brought Andre ashore. We all met outside Eric’s house with some of their close family to take Andre and the rest of our crew to the airport. Once Andre was airborne the family were giving us all a tour of the island, then we were all meeting together for a farewell meal. St Helena has recently built an airport and it is still one of the islands tourist attractions. We sent Andre off and watched as his plane took off before leaving on a second driving tour of the island. Sadly, low cloud meant there was poor visibility near the mountains of Dianna’s peak with heavy rain falling on the home and resting place of Napoleon. The lovely rain continued and Eric decided to take the crew to Half Tree Hollow to enjoy a home cooked St Helena meal at yet another Benjamin household. As the convoy of cars pulled up, we were brought inside and allowed to make use of their Wi-Fi. Everyone caught up on emails and social media while Dantelle video called her family back in Cape Town. We were then offered this traditional St Helena curry called “pillao” (pronounced Plo). The rest of the Benjamin family arrived to join us at the meal and long discussions were had with many laughs shared.

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We were all escorted back down to the harbour where the Benjamin’s had graciously found and purchased fresh produce … a huge branch of bananas and other fresh vegetables that we struggled to find on the island. They had also made us traditional St Helena fishcakes and a whole tub of Christmas Mince Pies. Dantelle and I stayed back to square up the final payment for her doctor’s visit, then popped into Eric’s house for a last cup of tea and to say our final goodbye before being picked up by the dinghy and brought back to Catching Up.Thinking back to when I first saw the barren rock of St Helena, it held a sense of wonder and amazement. I never ever thought I’d find a family that would accept us with open arms like the Benjamin’s did. We can’t thank them enough for their hospitality. St Helena is a gem in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and the Benjamin’s make it shine! You are what makes St Helena so special!!

The Benjamin family with the crew of Catching Up!

Crossing the Atlantic: South Africa to St Helena

Dantelle and I had just finished up our camping trip near Worcester in the Western Cape when we realised that we needed to prepare and sort out her things for her move onto Catching Up. We spent many days in supermarkets and shopping centres buying various things. Then it was the difficult time of saying goodbye to her beautiful family and her precious dogs, we loaded up her Dads ute (bakkie) and drove back to Saldanha where. Catching Up was moored for few weeks, as there being no available space for us in the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town..

The next stage was hectic, provisioning Catching up for an ocean crossing requires a load of food and essential items to make life bearable. We provisioned for the duration of the trip with an extra 30% as spare. This meant we raided every store in the Langebaan area for longlife milk, meat, flour, fruit and vegetables and other non-food related items. Every free spot in the boat was loaded with cans and other goods while our outdoor freezer was packed full of beef, chicken and lamb. The yacht was all stored, packed and prepared the last thing required was to clear immigration. We had a few issues clearing originally due to some documentation that was not provided, however the South African Customs officers in Saldanha were exceptional in their assistance with the clearing process once we had the correct documents. After clearing customs, we all loaded up into the two rental vehicles to drive down to Cape Town to clear immigration.

Clearing immigration is difficult in Cape Town when your vessel is not there. To clear immigration they require signed letters from the various marinas to say that they are full nor have the capacity to accommodate our vessel. We did the long drive down and were all prepared to clear when they required further forms. These forms meant we would need to sail all the way down to Cape Town to clear out, only to turn around and sail north towards Namibia and onto St Helena!! Everything worked out fortunately and we managed to source the forms later that day. In the mean time, we all descended back on the V&A shopping mall. Dantelle and I separated from Monica and Mum as we split into two groups to finish off the last of the provisioning. The highlight of our provision run was retrieving 12kgs of biltong from the supermarket and waiting to pick up spare hatches delivered to us in a shopping cart while we waited for them at a café. The day was super long with Dad running around collecting last minute items in and around Cape Town and picking up a single vehicle to take us all back up to Saldanha. We all finally reconvened at the same café with our 4 shopping carts full of provisions. What followed was a miracle as we managed to load 6 people and 4 shopping carts full of food into a Volkswagen Tiguan. It was then back to the immigration office to get our passports stamped, pick up Andre (another miracle to fit him into the car) and commence the 1.5-hour drive back to Saldanha.

Everything was packed, stored and the boat was clean, lines were dropped and we were off. Catching UP departed Saldanha on the 12th of December 2018 at 12pm bound for St Helena. The small marina waved us all off wishing us fair winds as we did a ceremonious blast of the air horn to say goodbye to the new friends we made in Yachtport. Leaving Saldanha the swell was about 2 metres. The sea became more choppy with the wind gusting up to 20kn. We began to beat into the wind as we motored further out past the Traffic Separation Scheme, heading northwest along the South African coastline. Dantelle soon began to feel the effects seasickness, followed by Werner. Mum and Monica had pre-empted this and had already organised a cooked meal for the evening. With two crewmates out of action, it was upon the rest of us to raise the mainsail and screecher to get our good 6kn. As the sun began to set on day one of the passage, Neptune blessed us with a pod of over 100 dolphins that came to play alongside and in front of our bow, this lasted for an hour.

The days soon began to blend together, wake up, eat, stand your watch, sleep, repeat. With the number of people on board, we stood a 3hr-on-9hr-off watch schedule, allowing for a large amount of free time to watch movies and relax. I would have to say though, with all the free time, many of us opted to sit and stare at the ocean or the horizon. Dantelle’s seasickness ended about 5 days into the trip. We had a few days of no wind, allowing us the amazing experience of swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in about 5km of water. There is something eerily uncomfortable knowing that there is such a large distance between you and the bottom of the sea with who knows what in between. Days included cleaning, polishing stainless steel, BBQ’s and socialising on this 50ft box with nothing but sea around us.

We spent Christmas on-board with presents being exchanged earlier that morning. The satellite phone was buzzing with the family and friends around the world being contacted to share our Christmas wishes. Lunch was very festive with a delicious roast lamb, vegetables and salads, not to forget the Christmas crackers, hats and champagne. Dantelle made her family famous trifle, delicious! Just as we were finishing lunch, land was spotted on the horizon … St Helena finally came into sight. Whew! It had been 13 days since leaving Cape Town and we pulled into St Helena’s tiny harbour. We tied Catching Up to the mooring and spent a few days enjoying the island. The trip was a challenge, but incredible, we had only used our engines for 8 hours, meaning that we used our sails over 90% of the entire trip. Our family, friends and delicious food made this trip something that I will remember forever. The ocean and wind made our passage from Suldanha to St. Helena the best introduction to blue water sailing.

We had finally found the milk run that other sailors had told us about!

Langebaan, South Africa: Passage and Training

After spending about a month and a half in Cape Town busy with boat works, boat shows and training it was finally time to get moving to a new spot. We spent the morning doing a small provision shop for the passage north and for the week of training ahead. Our training instructor Andre De Ridder from Yacht Master Sailing School was already on board working and getting the yacht ready for blue water sailing. After securing and storing all our equipment and food on board, we collected our mooring lines and floated off the dock at the V&A. As we headed north, we left the view of Table Mountain in our wake as the passage settled in. Unfortunately, for us, the wind was very low so with a headsail out we cut our engines and sailed at about 3 knots. Soon enough the fog set in. There is something eerily incredible about sailing in fog. You can’t see anything further than a few metres in front of you and have no idea what is around you. At that moment you are reliant on technology to tell you what’s nearby. Thankfully Catching Up has a Garmin XHD Radar that can effectively pick up nearly every type of vessel.

At approximately 2am in thick fog, we arrived in the Small Craft Harbour in Saldahna. We dropped anchor and went to sleep in preparation for the week of intensive training. We believe that training is very important and you never stop learning. Having previously only done a few hours of sailing on Catching Up we decided to approach Yachtmaster Sailing School enquiring about the possibility of getting a qualified instructor to do a week of sailing instruction with us on own boat. Andre had already joined us on the passage from Knysna to Cape Town and already being familiar with Catching Up, he was the obvious choice.

The thick fog made it near impossible to see

We woke up to a slightly foggy morning before lifting anchor and going for a sail. The Langebaan and Saldahna area is home to a massive port with large bulk cargo ships frequently entering and exiting. The area also has tidal streams, cardinal marks and sand banks. It provides an excellent area to do training as it exposes many different scenarios. The week flew by incredibly fast with Catching Up taking everything that was thrown at her. For those familiar with Yachtport Marina in Saldahna, we brought Catching Up right up into the bay under a headsail alone tacking back and forth getting ever closer to the sea wall before cutting back and sailing back out. She handled herself exceptionally well and made the large lagoon incredibly small with her cruising speed sitting comfortably in the high 7s.
After a number of days doing MOB (Man Over Board drills), sail handling, knot work and reefing, the week had finally ended. Mum, Monica and Werner were all hopping off and going back to Cape Town while Andre, Dad and I were to be joined by our good friend Steve for an extra few days of sailing. The first thing I noticed was that once Mum and Monica left the yacht, the food quality went down drastically. The delicious gourmet meals prepared by Monica throughout the training were only fond memories leaving us no option but to eat greasy meals in restaurants or heat up frozen meals. The few days with Steve focussed more intensely on sail maintenance, trim and reefing while also deploying and furling our screecher and spinnaker. We had an interesting evening after returning from a day out of heavy sailing. On returning to the lagoon we decided to take a previously safe route back through to an anchorage near the Saldanha Bay Yacht Club when we were approached at high speed by an unmarked, unlit vessel. The operator of the vessel informed us with anger that there were divers in the water and we were cutting through their training ground. These fine gentlemen, from South African Navy, had failed to inform the Saldanha Port Authority or any other vessel that dive operations were in place. After a long heated discussion, we slowly made our way to our track using our trusty Stryker HID GO Spotlight to provide extra spotting for any potential divers. The week flew by very quickly and soon it was time for me to step off Catching Up for the first time in 3 months.

I packed my bags, loaded up Steve’s car for the drive back to Cape Town to spend some time with Dantelle and her family. Two weeks later we all returned to Saldanha ready to leave South Africa bound for St Helena.