(A delayed weblog) Brava – a tale from the end of the world! by Lucy Gilliam

DATE:26122014 GMT:1459 POS:15 22 N, 31 06 W COG:278 SOG:2.3

We arrived after 5 days and 1000 miles ‘royals all the way’ fast sailing from La Palma to the volcanic island of Brava, the furthest south of the Cabo Verde Island Archipelago. As we approached the island in strong North Easterly Force 6 we got a call to alter our course from the Port of Furna and to make for the bay Faja de Agua, a horseshoe shape bay on the west of the island. This bay was more sheltered and considered safer for the ship, especially as we have no engine. As we approached the bay we were greeted by Erick in a little wooden fishing boat with 2 of his fishermen friends from the island and they guided us into the anchorage. Erick immigrated to the island with his partner Marijke and over the following 5 days on the island were our guides to all that is Bravarian.

As we rode in open back pickup trucks around the steep curves of the island roads, between the main towns from the Police station, to the harbour police and all around the back streets I absorbed the dusty cobbled palm lined streets, the slope terraces, the scattering of tiny white houses edged in sun bleached blues and greens, all while swerving around the edge of precipitous drops into the blue swell or valleys below.  As I travelled with him I got to see a unique perspective of life aboard this craggy remote rock at the end of the civilisation. We stopped to source provisions, try the local grog (well everyone apart from me) and fill up on rice, beans and fresh grilled fish with local variety of pepper sauce (delicious!).

The most striking thing about Brava is the lack of tourism or commercialism. Here only the bare necessities are available. The art of reuse and repurposing things is absolutely essential for people living here. When we arrived it hadn’t rained for over a year and combined with the recent eruption on Fogo, where most of the horticulture and viticulture was destroyed, this meant fresh produce was very limited. As there is little to export here, it’s hard for locals to buy in what is needed from elsewhere.

I also spent a lot of time in between at the smallholding of Marijke and Erick being fed delicious Maracuja (fresh passion fruit) which trails all over their roof, while getting their unique perspective on life here. They have a network of terraces growing veggies and sugar cane, a flock of chickens, several goats, 2 dogs, a cat and 4 adorable kittens (born only 2 weeks previously!). They also run a small B&B with 2 en-suite guest rooms (See Caza di Zaza, Faja de Agua).

On Captain Arjen’s birthday Erick took us on a tour of the valley behind his house up to a deserted village while sharing with us the history of the island. Once a river flowed through the valley given the bay its name. But gradually all the water has been diverted over the island, leaving the river as a dusty hollow. This diversion of water coupled with some badly planned engineering (whereby attempts to open up wells with dynamite caused their collapse) led to the desertion of the village in the valley.  More Bravarians live in the US than on the island itself.  This is due to the fact that whalers from Newfoundland would use Brava as a pit stop before crossing back over the ocean, to home with their catch, sometimes with a Cabo Verdean in tow. One of the sad consequences of this emigration is that half of the houses in the bay are empty and the terraces uncultivated as property is owned by people no longer living on the island, making it even more difficult for those remaining to make a living or afford a roof over their heads.

For most here it is subsistence living, with the main source of income from fishing. Every morning we saw the men head out in the little white wooden boats and return with glistening rainbows of fish to be taken up the hill to the market, mostly by the women. One morning a boat with 2 fishermen came to visit us shouting ‘pantaloon’ ‘pantaloon’ – they wanted to swap fish for clothes! Fortunately we had a good stock of unwanted clothes aboard from former crew. We swapped several of Emily’s clothes and a crate of pumpkins for a pan full of fresh fish! We giggled as the one fisherman left for shore wearing the pink low cut top we had just given him. Such is life here. Rarely money changes hands – it’s about barter!

Undoubtedly the best part of our stay was the last day aboard the ship as we waited for the offshore breeze to gently take us out of the bay. We were joined for lunch and the afternoon by 5 of the young fishermen from the bay who we had spent the last days getting to know on shore. As only one could speak good English, deckhand Joel acted as our translator (he speaks Antillean Creole, which has many similarities to the Cabo Verde dialect). One guy in particular had taken a shine to our trainee Paulinetje (We knew this because he let her drive the outboard engine of his fishing boat – that’s love that is). We watched with admiration as they excitedly climbed the rigging and leapt into the water from the t’gallant yards and helped us rapidly hoist our heavy anchors with the windlass. With over 65 metres of anchor chain and 2 anchors out to hold us against the Atlantic swells, it was no easy task and we appreciated the extra muscle power!

As the last of the chain lifted from the bottom we set the Topsail, ‘t gallant and bob sails and made out of the bay. Our visitors including Erick, Marijke and Marijkes daughter Nicky, sailed out with us into the sunset. Once we were clear of the rocks of the bay we said goodbye to our friends with hollers and promises to return soon.

Stunsails all the way – Barbados here we come!!

By Lucy.

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