Mission Recife

December 3, 2015

Every day here in Brazil presents another crazy story or mini adventure as step by step we prepare the boat for the next leg of our journey up the coast of South America to Guyana. We appear to have been befriended by some local wide boys that have made it their mission to deliver whatever we need although without exception at a small cost. This blossoming friendship is something of a double edged sword and whilst the assistance with fuelling 1000L of diesel by can is gratefully received the constant telephone calls to the boat phone are somewhat annoyingly persistent. It’s not hard to understand why of course as from afar we portray a sense of escape and freedom that must be somewhat enviable especially in a country that displays such poverty albeit relative in comparison to Senegal.

We are at anchor in the channel next to the vibrant port town of Recife protected from the South Atlantic swell by a large breakwater and in the constant company of the South Easterly trade winds that mercifully keep the mosquitoes at bay and provide gentle respite from the sweltering heat of the day. Our holding here is good with just the right amount of swing room to keep us from the shallows on either side but nonetheless the proximity to either shoreside is enough to keep us on our toes both day and night. Problems with our outboard engine have made use of the tender impossible throughout the majority of our stay and so we have built an ongoing ‘business’ relationship with the locals that operate the small fishing boats in the river taking us backwards and forwards as we have required. These boats are long and narrow and propelled by what I can only describe as a long grass strimmer and yet they have provided a crucial link for us to the slightly alien civilisation just a stones throw away.

I had desperately hoped for some down time here in Brazil to experience the culture and surroundings but such is the nature of this type of expedition that we have utilised every waking moment fixing boat and slowly overcoming every obstacle that has presented itself to us. The sea strainer which filters the cooling water to our main engine and generator needed replacing which has been a huge maintenance task alongside the epic mission to source some gas to facilitate our trip to Guyana. My role in the former was mostly in an advisory capacity – largely to find an engineer ashore to help liberate the various parts of the strainer that had become somewhat welded together by the elements over the years and a small amount of assistance with the various hammers involved in the task. It was largely Imogen and Holly however that completed the task with sheer determination and brute force. Whilst most of this was in progress I was challenged to source the gas – a seemingly simple endeavour to the outsider and having no previous knowledge of what would be available to us in this area. Not so simple after all.

After spending an entire day with a taxi driver called Gabriel (whom I had hoped would live up to his Christmas themed name) driving the highways and byways of the outskirts of Recife it became more and more evident that this was to be a fruitless and frankly thankless task. I can genuinely say that my tourist activities here have included visiting 2 major gas works and a number of gas retailers including one which supplies natural gas for residential purposes. I met a large number of very helpful non English speaking residents who couldn’t have been more receptive or proactive in terms of directing us to the next potential source but sadly all to no avail. I returned to the boat without gas and with a significant taxi bill.

Such is the wonder of Facebook that my next angle of attack proved fruitful in the form of an online response from an old friend from Glastonbury nonetheless. With some maps of the local area and 4 possible LPG locations in hand, the following morning I set out once again on my mission this time accompanied by Holly. To our amusement/trepidation when we first displayed the map of our intended destination to a local taxi driver he declared “oh no, too dangerous”. Based on the fact that all 4 destinations were in the same district we managed to persuade him to take us to the option that was situated on the outskirts of the proposed ghetto area. Upon arrival, we found ourselves in a backstreet in the residence of a man that stocked a number of water bottles and some random bottles of butane. It is tricky to describe the place other than to say that what resembled a small industrial unit was actually a store room / kitchen / bedroom and unmistakeable bathroom at which this local man appeared to live. It was also very hard not to notice the large scar that ran across his abdomen which left very little to the imagination based on the surroundings in which we found ourselves.

It could only be described as amusing to find 2 very British ladies in a South American ghetto communicating via the iTranslate app on my iPhone trying to purchase butane and at the same time determine how we could source a regulator to make it potentially compatible with the system on board Sea Dragon and naturally within the realms of appropriate safety. Yet somehow we did and even the taxi driver seemed impressed with the whole pantomime that took place within that moment in time.

The saga didn’t end with the successful sourcing of the bottle and indeed continued into the realms of gas piping and connectors and a great deal of online research into safety and previous experiences but we seem to have a solution should our existing gas supply run out prior to our arrival in Guyana. Naturally the bottle itself is far too wide to fit into the intended stowage position and so we shall once again need to find a way to adapt and deliver to what we have which is the general theme of this kind of expedition.

In the meantime, we have been trying to source a connector to work with our high pressure deck hose and this morning Holly and I revisited the ‘engineering’ district of Recife where were were able to source some brass and then find a man that can manufacture the relevant fitting with an American thread and the relevant hose end. We are due to pick this up at 0800 tomorrow shortly before our new crew arrive for their induction.

It has been an epic week of adventure and discovery that wouldn’t have been possible without our need to maintain this exceptional yacht that is host to our overall mission. Imogen, Holly and I have literally worked our socks off without a break but upon reflection, we would not have experienced the wonderful reality of this diverse and interesting culture without the absolute need to fully do so. On a personal level I have experienced some real highs and some very real lows during our stay here but it would be hard to find another way to truly immerse ourselves in the local culture and genuinely get a feel for Recife, Brazil in such a short time otherwise.

Tomorrow the crew arrive for the next leg and the final stage of our journey begins.

Emily Caruso, 1st Mate Sea Dragon

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