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PHOTO DIARY: Christmas in Cape Verde - 12 days of island hopping & trade wind sailing on Oosterschelde

Oosterschelde off Cape Verdean mountains. Photo by Arthur Smeets

All I wanted was a tall ship, strong trade winds, hot sun and a destination virtually unknown to mass tourism." Debbie Purser, Director & skipper at Classic Sailing 2010.

Oosterschelde - The Professional Sailors Choice for Holidays!

Back in 2010 three masted schooner Oosterschelde was relatively unknown to British audiences. Founders of Classic Sailing Adam and Debbie Purser had never been to the Cape Verde archipelago and they felt the ship was perfect for their own winter holiday over Christmas and New Year. This is Debbie's photo diary from that 2010 trip.

The 11 night voyages that Oosterschelde offers this winter 2018-19 are very similar to the itinerary in those early days.....but some of the characters have changed since this article and activities ashore are always evolving.

Oosterschelde's voyages in Cape Verde are now well known amongst our regular customers and she is one of the most popular tall ships in Classic Sailing Fleet. She also happens to be the discerning choice for a winter sun holiday amongst our own staff and sailors who work in the sailing industry themselves. The Chief Exec of the RYA chose Oosterschelde for her holiday a few year ago. A former charter skipper with us paid to be a customer on her and Becky Prizeman from Classic Sailing office sailed on the ship last winter (where is your travel blog Becky?). Adam and Debbie hopped on board Oosterschelde in the Caribbean last March to sail to Cuba......so it seems we can't resist her.

Oosterschelde Cape Verde Voyages 2018-19

 

12 knots on Oosterschelde in Cape Verde
12 knots on Oosterschelde in Cape Verde

Celebrating 10 Winter Seasons in Cape Verde

The Cape Verde archipelago lies off the West African Coast on the same latitude as St Lucia in the Caribbean. It has the same sailing ingredients as the Windy Indies but very few sheltered ports or anchorages. Until Dutch run schooner Oosterschelde decided to over winter in Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) for the first time in 2008/09 the majority of visiting yachts were only using the islands as a stop over on a world voyage.

In Oosterschelde's 10th winter season she now has 11 voyage dates to choose from in Cape Verde, although one is already fully booked.  (availability as of 22-08-18)

Local Knowledge & Ocean Sailors

Oosterschelde is an ocean going tall ship that likes to explore remote locations and has taken charter crew to Spitsbergen,Antarctica and Indonesia. One of the ships Captain’s has a Cape Verdean husband, and the ship had other links with the islands. Our Cape Verde guide on board was Ario who flung himself into both the rope pulling on board and organising jeep safaris and mountain walks ashore. He introduced us to his many friends on each island, and he even organised crew meals in Cape Verdean homes.

Local guide and crew sorting out a shore jeep safari
Local guide and crew sorting out a shore jeep safari

Sal to Santiago

Whilst Heathrow was shut to snow, we managed to escape the British winter on Christmas eve with a direct flight from Manchester to Sal with Thomson (also daily flights with TAP). Tourism and holiday property development has touched the Southern end of Sal with a Perfect cross onshore winds onto a perfect 3 miles of white sandy beach make it a kite surfing and wind surfing mecca.Sadly most tourists just see the rather barren island of Sal, soak up the tropical sun, feast on fresh wahoo and watch the supremely fit locals play beach volleyball, somersault off the wooden jetty and perform endless pull ups on outdoor exercise bars. There is a lot more…..
Working Language is English


Adam and I had sailed on Oosterschelde before but it is always exciting joining a ship and wondering what the rest of the crew will be like.Several nationalities of slightly nervous novice crew gathered under a shady tree in the port of Palmeira watching rather swamped fishing boats unload their big fish. Blond bombshell deckhand Thjis wizzed in to pick us up in the dinghy. The opulent saloon on Oosterschelde is always a surprise as it seems to take up half the ship. Cabins are a mix of 2 and 4 person sizes but all have a open skylight above. A few guests arrived later in the night, and our local guide Ario joined us early morning after Christmas Eve with his family.

Below decks Oosterschelde has a bar, elegant long tables and a piano
Below decks Oosterschelde has a bar, elegant long tables and a piano. Photo Arthur Smeets

6 Course Christmas Dinner at 7 knots

The ship sailed off her anchor without the engine so Adam and I wasted no time in finding an opportunity to go aloft. Oosterschelde’s ratlines are very steep compared to many other tall ships and by the time I had reached the yard I was feeling a bit puny in the arm strength department. Plenty of muscles to work on in the next 11 days, but the
6 course Christmas Dinner later that night had me wondering about my waistline. The chef Jan gave us a meal with class, served on long polished wood tables, whilst we perched on chairs chained to the floor. The ship was tanking along under full sail in the dark so not everybody had acquired their sea legs so the gathering dwindled with each course
and I have to confess eating 3 champagne fluff puddings. Boxing Day morning was a visual treat—anchored in Tarafal, Santiago, 100 sea miles from the main tourist hotspot on Sal.

Landing can be quite tricky. Surf waves steaming into beach behind
Landing can be quite tricky. Surf waves steaming into beach behind

Boxing Day Surf for Locals

Watching the waves steaming into the beach, we were all glad to be anchored on a large steel schooner and not the 40ft yacht s rolling in the anchorage. The whole crew decided a minibus trip up into the mountains could not be resisted, so we bumped our way up the cobbled mountain roads peering at a landscape that was a mix of Grand Canyon and the spiky spires of more glaciated landscapes.

cobbled mountain roads built by slaves on Santiago
cobbled mountain roads built by slaves on Santiago

Spiders, Slave songs & Birds of Prey

Euphorbias, flax and all types of plants from around the world have been planted to re– forest the slopes and we were a bit shocked to see huge yellow spiders on the bushes as we all stretched our legs on a circular mountain walk. A women’s group entertained us with some sad and angry songs and drumming from the days of slavery. By the time we returned to the ship, the whole beach was full of Cape Verdean families enjoying boxing day….and no other tourists in sight.

Boxing day at Tarafal and not a tourist in sight
Boxing day at Tarafal and not a tourist in sight


Wahoo Steak BBQ on deck

Oosterschelde is a ship built to entertain and feed us well. A BBQ on deck treated us to cooked wahoo fish steaks and beef kebabs, and the bar below decks did a roaring trade in wine and beer as the sun set.


Going to Windward a pleasure in the tropics

An 140 mile beat to windward is not something I normally enjoy on a tall ship, but in the brilliant turquoise seas and strong trade winds, with tons of ship pushing a huge bow wave—it was one of the best sails in my long professional sailing career. Spray on deck was a cooling treat. With a steady force 4-5 the ship was a joy to steer. I climbed aloft to take photos but at 7-8 knots the whole rig was humming so it was hard to keep the camera (and my heart beat) steady. We all got a bit sunburnt as it was just to pleasurable to be on the open deck all day.

Flying fish, an ibis and a school of 30-40 dolphins came to play. At night huge phosphorescent balls trailed in our wake, and it took a while to realise they were jelly fish glowing.

Oosterschelde making good use of the strong trade winds in Cape Verde
Oosterschelde making good use of the strong trade winds in Cape Verde


Sao Vincente - Island of Musicians, Poets & Artists

We arrived in Mindelo is the biggest port in the archipelago and there were plenty of artist studios and places to eat, if you strolled around town. A few of us took a taxi to a lagoon and saw an osprey.

Cape Verde - lagoon on Sao Vincente
Cape Verde - lagoon on Sao Vincente


Across the strait to Sao Antao

A boisterous sail across the 7 miles strait from Mindelo on Sao Vincente to the high mountains of Sao Antao. We are all geared up for the big walk from the volcanic crater to the rim and down the big valley to the sea. Three very shiny jeeps* took us up to 1200 metres (*posh 4WD pick up trucks with lots of chrome and very hard wooden seats in the back is the standard Cape Verde jeep taxi). Inside the crater was a lost world of tranquil farms and bleating goats. We climbed to the rim, swathed in trade wind clouds and mist, and over the edge was the steepest donkey track I have ever seen, bedecked with beautiful flowers and ferns. Hairpin turns and stone walls kept us safe, but it was going to be a long day for the knees.

Verdant fields of crops in the coastal gorges on Sao Antao
Verdant fields of crops in the coastal gorges on Sao Antao


The big Walk from Crater to Sea

Aoliums, the scent of damp pine trees, ferns and an amazing farming landscape began to evolve as we dropped down out of the mist into sunshine. The steep volcanic hillsides had been transformed into a garden of Eden with terraces everywhere. Coffee, sugar cane, bananas, mangoes, bamboo, and even rice paddies. Small hamlets, kids walking to school, even invites into peoples houses for a coffee— made it a very special day.

All Day Trek - Precipitous donkey path from crater to sea
All Day Trek - Precipitous donkey path from crater to sea

Cape Verdean home cooking

Ario arranged for us to have a late lunch of Cachupa in a local lady’s house —a hearty stew that has been served up in Cape Verde homes slaves, but the rich mans version involves chicken, goat, cassava, maize, sweet potato, beans…..and Oosterschelde crew woofed it down with beer and a few tastes of home made grog.

Party Night in Mindelo

After our mountain walking on Sao Antao the ship nipped back to Mindelo Harbour. A night ashore ? Did any of us have enough energy ? Well perhaps a couple of beers and some mellow traditional music in the Club Nautico. Somehow the evening also managed to fit in Ario’s local bar (which was all chrome and lap dancing pole) and then dancing until 3am at an open air stage with hundreds of young Cape Verdeans dancing to techno music and strobe lights ! We now need to go to sea again for a rest. 

mountain road to top of the crater on Sao Antao
mountain road to top of the crater on Sao Antao

Flying along in a Force 6-7

A cracking sail with waves coming over the lee rail and lots of little gleeful squeals as various crew get caught by a dollop of ocean. We blasted past the uninhabited islands of Santa Luzia, a flurry of sail handing to shoot the gap between islands and then the wind dies as we approach Sao Nicolau. 40-50 dolphins were sighted—rounding up fish and leaping in the air. We anchored off Ario’s home island—of which he is very proud (although he seemed to have family on every island !).

Rum, Grogue & Sugar Cane

We visited some sugar cane farms where children were carrying huge piles of cane on their head to the wood furnaces. The distilling of rum grog or grogue seemed to be a cottage industry here with small presses and stills everywhere, but only the smoke gives them away amongst the banana plantations and cane fields.

Wild North Coast Drive

The North coast seemed as wild and spectacular as the West Coast of New Zealand, but a lot drier. This is the shoreline that gets the full force of the NE trade winds. Small hamlets perched on the cliff tops with substantial stone walls and low roofs that would not look out of place in the Outer Hebrides. We stopped our windswept 4WD convoy to buy some beer from the only shop / bar in one village. Two of us sat on the kerb helping an old lady shell peas, because it seem the thing to do on a hot dusty afternoon.

Wild west coast of Sao Nicolau
Wild west coast of Sao Nicolau


Extreme Infinity Pool & Wild Swim

A tempting pool on top of a wave lashed cliff. Once a few of us took the plunge, we looked out of the lip of the pool to see huge ocean swell marching in…..and yes big waves do come right in….and more scarey,drain out over the edge pretty fast. Try it at your own risk !

clifftop infinity pool - very scarey swim
clifftop infinity pool - very scarey swim

Boa Vista—A camel too far ?

I’m not normally an excursion type of person. I hate being organised and far prefer to mooch around a new port or island and explore everyday scenes of life. Having a Cape Verde guide like Ario on board, and extremely good value ‘chip in to costs’ jeep safaris arranged on each island was too good to miss for such an unknown destination….and I had a duty to report back to Classic Sailing customers about this brilliant winter sailing destination. Boa vista tour was a jeep ride too far. The 30km white beach and the encroaching Sahara like sand dunes were amazing, but when the beaches are that good, I would much rather swim, kite surf or windsurf than go to see a grumpy camel.

12 mile beach on Boa Vista
12 mile beach on Boa Vista

Kite Surfing Heaven & Great Fresh Fish

Tip for Boa Vista or Sal—If you are remotely into water-sports and can afford the lessons —go kite surfing. If I have my facts right, The World Windsurfing development team saw the potential for Cape Verde to be a world class kite surfing venue and some money was put into to training local Cape Verdean's to be kite surfing instructors. They are natural showmen too, and all around the islands are pull up gymnastics bars and kids doing back flips on the beach. Photo is one of the local instructors showing off. Simple cooked fresh fish is sold in many beach front restaurants, and a few Italian run restaurants.

Prices for 2018-19:

The price for a berth on a 11 night voyage is €1650 euros. - typically in a 4 person cabin with other solo travellers of the same sex. All cabins have opening skylights and a wash basin and there are good quality showers and male and female WC close by.

For couples you can reserve a 2 person cabin for €1875 each.

Prices include all sailing instruction, accommodation on board with bed linen and hand towels.

There is a chef cooking great meals - served in the saloon or on deck.

Extra are: flights out to Cape Verde (direct charter flights from Gatwick or Manchester to Sal with Thomson or daily with TAP), taxi transfer to port, Cape Verde Visa, shared contribution to any excursion (not compulsory), and your bar bill.

Is it for me ?

No sailing experience is needed. As long as you are agile enough to climb down a boarding ladder into a dinghy to go ashore, and have no serious health problems then your booking application should be approved. You are officially signed on as ships crew, but levels of participation varied from the pull every rope / climb the rigging enthusiasts to the soak up the atmosphere and steer occasionally types.

 

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