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Sail Cape Verde - trade winds, winter sun & island exploration

The Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) are a tropical island group are well south of the Canaries on about the same latitude as St Lucia in the Caribbean. They lie off the West African coast of Senegal and slap bang in the North East trade wind belt. Hot sun, a constant strong breeze (typically force 4-7) and a mix of islands - some of which are 100 miles apart and others only half a day distant, creates a world class cruising ground for those who prefer anchorages and islands to explore without hordes of tourists.

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Why we love this sailing ground
Kite surfing on Sal, Cape Verde
Kite surfing on Sal, Cape Verde

Sensational Blue Water Sailing Conditions

The inhabited islands include Brava, Fogo, Santiago, Maio, Sal, Boa Vista, Sao Nicholau, Sao Antao and Sao Vincente in two distinct groups - windward and leeward islands. The Cape Verde islands are out in the ocean for real blue water cruising and are just about perfect for an island hopping holiday on a ocean tall ship like Oosterschelde.  Sal has hosted world kite surfing and Boa Vista is well known as a windsurfing blast spot. Cape Verde is a real mecca all year round for those who like it windy and sunny, with warm seas to swim in.

coastal lagoon on Sao Nicolau, Cape Verde
coastal lagoon on Sao Nicolau, Cape Verde

Wahoo, Flying Fish & breeding Turtles

The seas are rich with fish like wahoo and tuna and the locals still sail in and out the surf in small boats with lug sails. In every port you see small boats unloading daily and wheel barrow loads of fresh fish or seafood trundling down the jetties.  Out to sea flying fish skip between the wave crests and you may see whales, sharks or dolphins.  We saw an osprey on Sao Nicolau and spiders webs span whole streets between telegraph poles ! The islands are one of the most important breeding sites for turtles in the world with active conservation projects to protect them. Among the visitors are loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback and green turtles.

flying fish boy
flying fish boy on Santa Maria beach

Unspoilt Alternative to the Caribbean

The tropical climate is similar to the Caribbean but drier. Cape Verde has suffered many droughts so rain is very rare. Average monthly temperatures in January and February are around 23 degrees Centigrade (74 F) and the sea is a balmy 23 degrees C average too.  In these months the rainfall average is 2mm for the month, so considerably drier than the Caribbean and almost free of mosquitos, which can often spoil a tropical paradise.

Some islands are quite flat and barren with beaches stretching for miles like Sal and Boa Vista.  Others are more typically volcanic with lush soils, moisture giving trade wind clouds over mountain peaks and craters, gorges and terraced slopes full of banana, coffee, sugar cane and all sorts of crops.  The locals brew a dangerous rum grog which together with their soulful folk music are a heady combination.

Walking down from crater to sea on Sao Antao
Walking down from crater to sea on Sao Antao. Photo Arthur Smeets

African songs of slavery and freedom

Cape Verde has a dark past as Portuguese colony and holding station for the African slave trade.  Miles of cobbled mountain roads were built by slaves. There is a rich culture, awareness of their past and hauntingly beautiful music and singing, telling the tales of the islands and fight against slavery.  Today many Cape Verdeans work abroad and send money back to this proud but poor independant African Nation.  The islands without international airports are as yet unspoilt by tourism, but cruise ship berths are just beginning to be built on islands like Santiago, so don't leave it too long to visit these unique islands.  

locals surfing on boxing day on Santiago
locals surfing on boxing day on Santiago

Trade Winds & Tropical Winter Sun for Christmas and New Year

Classic Sailing directors Adam and Debbie took our Christmas Holiday on Oosterschelde in Cape Verde Christmas 2011 and have been raving about Cape Verde ever since. Read about our favourite walk from crater to sea on Sao Antao, a banquet of 6 courses whilst at sea, music and dancing in Mindelo for New Year, local meals like Catchpa Stew and the hospitality of the locals.

mountain trails on Cape Verde
mountain trails on Cape Verde
Which ship for my adventure?

Cape Verde Sailing Specialist Oosterchelde

Impressive three masted topsail schooner Oosterschelde is our Cape Verde specialist. Her distinctive black and white hull is well known on all the islands and she has spent over 10 winters exploring this stunning archipelago.  The ship had visited the isles on her first circumnavigation of the world in 1996 and thought they were a bit of an unknown treasure. A former Captain of Oosterschelde had a Cape Verdean husband. The idea to over winter in Cape Verde was born and Oosterschelde started to develop the 11 day island hopping itinerary that has become a classic winter sailing holiday.  You are likely to visit at least 6 islands on Oosterschelde Sailing Expeditions based in Cape Verde.

Oosterschelde was built in 1917 as a cargo carrying sailing ship and continued to trade under sail in Northern European Waters, the Mediterranean and the North Coast of Africa under until the 1930's. The ship is the only remaining example of a large fleet of schooners that sailed under the Dutch flag at the beginning of the last century. Although she is still owned by a Dutch Foundation, the professional crew are often a mix of nationalities and the working language on board is English. 

Schooner Oosterschelde off the Cape Verde. Photo Arthur Smeets
Schooner Oosterschelde off the Cape Verde. Photo Arthur Smeets

Ocean Sailing on Blue Clipper - Atlantic Circuit

Blue Clipper is making a name for herself as an ocean going charter ship, with extensive seasonal circuits North in the Arctic for summer and South for the sun in winter. Her winter Atlantic Circuit typically involves an mini ocean passage from the Canaries to Cape Verde and joining in Cape Verde for a Trans Atlantic to the Caribbean.  You are likely to leave or join on the island of Sal, and perhaps visit one or two other islands, but check voyage descriptions.

Tall Ships using Cape Verde as a Staging Post

Any of our ocean going sailing ships that are heading for the Caribbean or South America via the North East trade winds is likely to use the Cape Verde as a staging post. Barque Europa tends to stop in Cape Verde for a few days in the autumn on the way from the Northern Hemisphere to her Antarctic Cruising Grounds. Her favourite stop tends to be Mindelo.

Lord Nelson and Tenacious are British square riggers that stop in a few of the Cape Verde islands, typically Sal or the big port of Mindelo on Sao Nicolau. 

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