The Changing Face of Brazil

Our own private tropical island.

Our own private tropical island.

Like many of you, we’re lovers of islands, especially if they’re small and peaceful. Since our arrival in Brazil, we’ve visited a few, but mainly ones that have been sizeable and busy like Itaparica. So as soon we arrived in the lovely Baia de Camamu, we were scanning the chart for the right sort of opportunities to add to our island tally.

The Baia de Camamu is some seventy miles south of Salvador, but it might just as well be seven hundred, the difference is so great. The Baia de Todos os Santos is semi-industrial in places, and largely revolves around the big city. This extensive estuarine inlet is as rural as it comes and has a reputation as one of the most tranquil areas along the coast of Bahia, with laid-back, friendly inhabitants living a traditional lifestyle. Tourism is low-key, and despite the presence of large numbers of wooden trip boats plying back and forth between the islands it’s such an extensive piece of water that it doesn’t feel busy at all, except around the most popular villages.

It’s Party Time!

And this, being the period of Carnaval in Brazil, means there are plenty of people about by day to keep the trip boats busy. By night the music starts, seemingly from every village around the Baia, each one equipped with their own powerful noise-making machine, competing to host the most ground shaking sound, so there’s all the more reason to go off and find a quiet spot to anchor.

We wish!

We wish!

Which is what we did, anchoring in a sheltered inlet off the uninhabited Ilha dos Tatus, well away from the nearest villages. Using our shoal draft we were able to creep in close to the beach, where the tide had sculpted a shallow pool, as close to the shore as we could be without being on it. Wonderful. Apart from birdsong and the occasional thud as a coconut landed on the sand, just silence—at last, our own private tropical island.

Soaking Up The Atmosphere

Towards evening, the wind dropped to a flat calm, and the island reverberated to the dry rustle of crickets and the machine tool whine of a thousand frogs, ushering in the darkness. Distant lights around the bay were the only visual evidence of human presence, although we could hear the odd slap from a fisherman’s paddle hitting the surface of the water nearby, driving fish into his net. On nights like this in such a place it’s hard to turn in—there’s so much atmosphere to soak up, it seems a tragedy to miss a second of it.

The magic of dawn light at the Ilha dos Tatus

The magic of dawn light at the Ilha dos Tatus

Early the next morning we were woken by loud cries and banging from the shore, and looked out to find a dugout pulled up on the beach. No sign of the occupant at first, but then he appeared, stalking through the coconut palms, stopping every so often to let out an unearthly howl and whack the trunk of a nearby tree with the flat of a large machete, beating the bounds of his tiny domain. Glad we didn’t hear that in the dark, we agreed.

Boat maintenance in paradise – some things never change

Boat maintenance in paradise – some things never change

Soon he settled to gathering coconuts and cutting fronds, piling them up ready for export. The large machete that had so alarmed us was put to use as an entire toolkit while he repaired the bottom of his dugout, carving out a damaged part, and then driving in a new piece. At no stage did he betray any awareness of our presence at all, and so we passed the day companionably enough at no more than a hundred metres distance, but separated by an immense gulf of time and mutual incomprehension.

More To Come?

This is a scene that is being played out in Brazil on a grand scale, as the rapid rise in prosperity in recent years has generated an explosion in boat numbers, especially concentrated around the key cruising areas of Salvador and Rio. Photographs in our relatively recent pilot book show marinas half empty and idyllic anchorages with hardly a boat in sight, but the reality can often be very different today.

A report I read recently speaks of some 650,000 pleasure craft being registered in Brazil in the last five years, and the result is that nearly all the marinas are full to bursting, and many popular spots now have large numbers of visiting boats at anchor or on moorings.

Trying to get a marina to respond to an emailed request for a berth is largely a waste of time—with few exceptions they simply ignore your message, even if it’s in Portuguese (thanks to the magic of Google Translate).

Relations Seem Good

But if the Baia de Camamu is anything to go by, the increasing number of yachts seems to be generally welcomed by the local people, and there’s little of the resentment that spoils the atmosphere in some other ‘tropical paradise’ islands.

The traditional ways of making a living like fishing still continue alongside newer, more tourist based activities, and most people we spoke to agreed that life had got easier in recent times for most Brazilians. Bars and restaurants are proliferating ashore, full of locals as well as a smattering of yachties, and everyone seems to get along well.

Learning to co-exist

Learning to co-exist

Looking around the Baia de Camamu, other popular tidal inlets around the world come to mind like Chesapeake Bay, the Solent, or the Golfe du Morbihan. Once upon a time they too must have been like this, but have now fallen victim to their own beauty and popularity. Full of boats from dawn until dusk, and with very few little quiet corners left, their charm has become increasingly hard to discern.

Will that happen here? It’s a million miles away from that at the moment, and maybe Brazil will find a better way to ensure all can enjoy and benefit from the popularity of the Baia without losing its essential magic—let’s hope so. But just in case—maybe get here soon.

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Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

15 comments… add one
  • Marc Dacey Mar 15, 2013, 8:21 am

    Glad to hear you’ve located Paradise, or a reasonable fascimile. My Portuguese sailing buddy, however, asks people not to use Google Translate for his native language as apparently it mangles Portuguese on a regular basis…nao tudo bem… not that it would even matter in an overbooked marina situation.

    • Colin Speedie Mar 15, 2013, 9:36 am

      Hi Marc

      Well, a little bit of Paradise – Paradise being more of a concept than reality…

      As for Google Translate, it’s getting a lot better than it was even a couple of years ago, when I used it to assist with the translation of a research document, and it translated every negative (i.e. no) into a positive! I think it’s more to do with the culture here and at home. I know that for many of us in the Anglo world our obsession with email has reached epidemic proportions, so much so that we spend many of our waking hours dealing with torrents of messages – and I think the Brazilians have more sense than that.

      But the Google Translate message worked well enough for one marina – which is why we’re here.

      As you say – tudo bem!

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • FAIVET DANIEL Mar 15, 2013, 8:59 am

    Magnifique description , des paysages de reve qui m a rappelé l époque ou je travaillais au Bresil, Rio de janeiro et surtout san salvador da bahia, je revais d un bateau ……

    • Colin Speedie Mar 15, 2013, 9:34 am

      Merci Daniel pur les mots d’appreciation, et j’espere que vous realise votre reve un jour tres tot!

      Amicalites

      Colin

  • John Rushworth Mar 15, 2013, 1:39 pm

    Thanks Colin. Your article brought back memories of some sailing around Angra dos Reis, when I stayed and worked out of Rio for 2 years as an ROV pilot. Your photos remind me that swimming there is wonderful but how there is no way I’ll be swimming here in Scotland – without a wet suit! Enjoy.

    • Colin Speedie Mar 15, 2013, 5:18 pm

      Hi John

      We´ve just arrived in Paraty, so we´re near your old haunts.

      Swimming everyday off the back of the boat is a real luxury after so many years up North, and no need need to psyche yourself up to go in.

      As for wetsuits, the only time I´ve worn mine here is for protection when scrubbing the hull – the barnacles here are serious sizes, and sharp to boot!

      Best wishes

      Colin

      • Scott Kuhner Mar 15, 2013, 10:11 pm

        Excuse me Colin, I should have read this post before posting my comment in my awful Portuguese. You are in Parati and I am sure you are loving it. I used to work for a Brazilian investment bank and for eight years I spent an average of one week a month in Brazil. That ended 12 years ago. Any way Parati was one of my favorite sailing spots.

        • Colin Speedie Mar 16, 2013, 8:18 am

          Hi Scott

          No need to worry – if you think your Portuguese is bad, wait until you hear mine!

          Paraty is lovely, and Ilha Grande. too. We´re leaving our boat here for six weeks while we return to the world of work. When we return we´re looking forward to exploring some more.

          Best wishes

          Colin

  • Scot Kuhner Mar 15, 2013, 6:05 pm

    Si vc esta indo para Rio, nao ti escarsi ir para Parati perto de Angra Dos Reis. A Baia De Parati es muito legau tambem

  • Richard William Lord Mar 15, 2013, 9:45 pm

    Thank you so much for the 10 minute “Brazilian Vacation”.. How I envy you and all that your experiencing..

    My life long dream since I was 10 years old (after seeing Walt Disney’s, “Swiss Family Robinson” film), has been to sail to the South Pacific Islands and “escape” from this world..

    Your writings and descriptions of your travels are what keep my “childhood dreams” alive.. Thank you very much, I’m living vicariously thru you..

    Please continue writing, the more, the better..

    Richard William Lord

  • Colin Speedie Mar 16, 2013, 8:21 am

    Hi Richard

    Obviously I´m delighted that you´re gaining so much pleasure from m,y posts – I´ll do my best to keep them coming.

    As for the dreams, well, we had them, too, and it´s taken a lifetime to get them to coalesce into reality. So keep the dreams alive, and then one day….

    Kindest regards

    Colin

  • Trevor Lusty Mar 19, 2013, 7:04 pm

    Colin,
    your post brought back some wonderful memories of two years cruising Brazil. Some points you may find helpful. Always disconnect the fuel line from your outboard and let the engine run dry to get rid of the sugar and ethanol in the petrol, eventually your outboard will just not work.
    Keep a careful eye on the condition of your main diesel engine oil. There is a very high sulphur content in the local BR diesel and it will quickly use up the life of good engine oil. One hundred hour oil changes maximum. If you go further South and visit any of the deltas the silt wears impellers and raw water pumps quickly.
    If you are leaving your boat be very careful that your paper work is correct. The authorities seized 35 European yachts between December 10 and January 2011 for not having correct papers. There was no negotiation, 96% of the current market value of the vessel was the fine ,so most people went home by plane. This is not heresy I watched it happen.
    There is a recently European published and much needed hard backed pilot guide showing beautiful sweeping curves into many anchorages and harbors with photographs.
    Treat it with suspicion it is very inaccurate and sometimes dangerous.
    If you go back to Bahia dos Santos consider the Paragacau (selling) river.
    All the above will hopefully mean you will enjoy your adventure even more.
    It gets better as you go further South. If you get down to Rio Grande du Sol and meet Lauro you won’t want to leave.
    Fair Winds,
    Trevor Lusty
    Seafever of cuan
    Amel Super Maramu
    Mexico

    • Colin Speedie Mar 19, 2013, 8:28 pm

      Hi Trevor

      Brazil is fantastic, but yes, there are things to look out for.

      The ethanol content in the local petrol has caused us more than a few moments grief, and our outboard is being serviced and (hopefully) adjusted to suit the new local fuel as I write.

      Thanks for the tip on the engine oil – we have to service the engine soon, and we’ll be sure to change the oil. Just like the old days with red diesel and our old 4.108 Perkins!

      We’ve already seen the impact on impellers – please look out for a future post.

      I’d totally agree on the need for care with paperwork – I’ve just spent the best part of two days sorting out the papers for our boat!
      I’d have to say that we always do take these things very seriously, though, and we’ve been very lucky indeed with the help we’ve had here at Paraty, at the excellent Marina do Engenho where the manager Luis is a five star guy.

      The pilot (I think) you are referring to is described as a cruising guide, and I think that’s about right. Useful, but not entirely accurate. But I never trust these things implicitly, and rely more on the old eyeball Mark I anyway.

      We had a fantastic time up the Rio Paraguacu (see my previous post) and hope to visit again on our way North later this year.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Richard William Lord Mar 19, 2013, 8:57 pm

    Man—–this site is just a “wealth of information”..!!

    Question: Is it possible to obtain “ethanol-free gasoline” there at the marinas or ports..?? (much better for outboards and stores much longer.. It doesn’t absorb water like ethanol gas does)..

    Running the carb dry in one outboard isn’t an option—Evinrude ETEC engines.. Manufacturer says to “Never run them dry..”..

    Again—–this is just an Awesome Website..!!

  • RDE Mar 19, 2013, 11:13 pm

    Hi Trevor & Colin,
    If your account of seizure of boats in Brazil with “incorrect paperwork” is correct, I’d be hauling the anchor and leaving for countries where the rule of law is more than the whim of a bureaucrat and the local authorities haven’t developed a way to make theft profitable. Correct paperwork is always a floating concept, especially when you don’t speak the language or have local connections. Reading between the lines about the boom in private boat ownership in Brazil, the market for seized boats may make it a tempting enterprise.

    My paranoia is grounded in personal experience. The world is full of beautiful anchorages, and sailboats are for reaching toward new horizons and leaving behind ones that have hungry alligators swimming about.

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