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Cape Verde - Windward and Leeward Islands

Cape Verde is a fairly new winter holiday destination and most land based tourist experiences centre around the beach and hotels at Santa Maria on Sal and watersports holidays on the equally barren Boa Vista.  Whilst the seas are a gorgeous turquoise, winds are fantastic for any sort of sailing and there are miles of white sand beaches on both these islands, you are not seeing the best that Cape Verde can offer the adventurous traveller.

Schooner Oosterschelde's 11 day sailing expeditions give you a well planned exploration of at least six of the nine Cape Verdean islands, offering Ocean style sailing and optional jeep safaris and mountain walks on each of the islands. This page highlights some of the best things you can do on the Windward and Leeward Islands if you chose this elegant 1918 Dutch schooner for your tropical expedition ship.

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See the Real Cape Verde from a Sailing Ship

Tall ship holidays in Cape Verde on Oosterschelde
Photo by Arthur Smeets - Sensational blue water sailing in Cape Verde

Sal to Santiago & perhaps Fogo

Sal has amazing white beaches and turquoise seas and the cross shore winds on the beach at Santa Maria is becoming a mecca for kite surfers. If you are flying in early, then Santa Maria is the best place to stay and chill out on the beach and eat fresh fish in town. When it is time to start your voyage, Oosterschelde will be in the port of Palmeria, which is a very short taxi drive away from the airport or hotels in Santa Maria. This is not a touristy town and you meet the ships crew in the ships tender, down by the fisherman's quay.

The first sail usually starts with 110 miles downwind with a day and night passage to Tarafal on Santiago to find your sea legs. Santiago in the leeward islands is a total contrast to flat Sal, with high mountains and cobbled mountain roads built in the past by slaves. Santiago is the most African island with mountains and green valleys. Oosterschelde crews typically spend the entire day on the island. With a taxi bus you can travel across the island to visit the colourful markets of the capital Praia and the oldest city of the Archipelago, Cidade Velha. Inland there are mango trees, banana plantations and old grog factories, where the sugar cane is still grinded by a grinding stone pulled on by a cow. From Santiago high roads you can see the classic volcanic form of Fogo - the highest summit in the Archipelago at 9281 feet. Crews have landed on Fogo but the anchorages are usually too exposed.  (jeep excursion costs are cheap and split amongst the guest crew - approx £8-10 a head in 2010).

Spontaneous parties often start on the beach here in Tarafal, where everyone is dancing to the swinging Cape Verdean music.

Mountain villages on Santiago, Cape Verde
Mountain villages on Santiago, Cape Verde


Sao Vincente & Sao Antao

Sailing close hauled and 130 miles to make North westwards to Ilha da Sao Vincente gives plenty of sailing action for those who want to set lots of huge sails. For others the simple pleasure of reading a book in hot sun on deck, with a cooling breeze and the odd dollop of sea spray is enough activity. Steering the ship with Grayhound's big tiller and watching the ship rising and crashing though the ocean swell with 'a bone in her teeth.' 

The upwind passage typically takes a day and night.

Mindelo is the largest harbour of the Cape Verde, and the town has restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. Some of the anchorages have strong currents and swell but Mindelo has a good beach for swimming. Live Cape Verdean traditional music at Club Nautico is worth an evening dinghy ride.

Accross a 7 mile strait is Santo Antao. The greenest and maybe the most beautiful island of the archipelago. A perfect island to explore on foot with volcanic craters swirling in trade wind clouds, zig zagging paths between villages and terraced fields, often with spectacular views revealed.

There is no safe harbour so the ship normally stays in Mindelo and those who want to explore the island of Sao Antao catch the local ferry (and we strongly suggest you do as it is one of the highlights of the voyage). A taxi bus is arranged (this can be an open jeep with seats) to take you to the top of the crater, with an amazing walk down the Ribeira Grande valley full of crops and thatched houses, until you reach the coastal road and your lift back to the ferry.

incredible donkey path switch back from the crater rim on Sao Antao, Cape Verde
Incredible donkey path switch back from the crater rim on Sao Antao. Photo Arthur Smeets

Sao Nicolau

Sail past the uninhabited island of Santa Luzia, and if swell permits the ship may anchor and run a trip ashore. The waters around the island are rich in fish so it may be worth staying on board with a fishing line. Swimming is not recommended due to the large number of sharks, but watching these menacing beauties is a novel treat for wildlife lovers.

The destination on São Nicolau is also called Tarrafal. We anchor just before the harbour, or maybe even moor at the quay. Tarrafal is a peaceful fisherman’s village where we will be welcomed with open arms. There is barely any tourism and the majority of fisherman sail instead of motorized boats.

A jeep safari across the mountains to the wild windward coastline of Sao Nicolau is spectacular. Swim in the wildest natural infinity pool ever - if you dare - with waves crashing against the vertical cliffs below. There are the beautiful worn basalt formations and drive up to the last remainders of a primeval forest in the mountains.

Sao Nicolau West Coast - shipwrecks and trade winds
Sao Nicolau West Coast - shipwrecks and trade winds

Boa Vista - deserts and watersports

The last island is usually Boa Vista and back to an up and coming watersports destination- with its massive desert dunes, date palms, camels and white, white beaches. A great place to hire a windsurfer if you are into wave sailing or blasts. A short hop brings the ship back to Sal.

Boa Vista is popular with windsurfers from all over the world
Boa Vista is popular with windsurfers from all over the world
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

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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