Brazil As A Cruising Destination

Life on the river

Life on the river

Choosing a different route from that normally followed by boats from Europe for our first Transatlantic was always our intention. Nothing against the Caribbean, but we both had a long held desire to explore South America, and Brazil fitted the bill. Looking back on that decision, we realize that we’ve learned such a lot in so many ways, many of them unexpected, which might help others considering the same route.

What We Loved:

The people, especially off the beaten track up the rivers. (That’s not to say that people in the cities were in any way unfriendly, simply that we were (probably) less noticeable to them!) We met many wonderful people, and enjoyed so many small kindnesses it would be impossible to list them, but the slow pace of the waterborne life up the rivers was particularly magical.

Deserted anchorage, Abrolhos archipelago

Deserted anchorage, Abrolhos archipelago

The islands. What a variety—bustling at Itaparica, wild and remote in the Abrolhos, tropical and verdant in the Baia da Ilha Grande. Such a selection, especially in the latter destination, where there are reckoned to be 365 islands, one for every day of the year. This is Brazil’s favourite cruising ground, and it’s easy to see why.

What Surprised Us:

The lack of facilities for yachts. Due to the economic boom that Brazil has enjoyed in recent years, boat ownership has expanded massively. Unfortunately, that explosion has not been reflected in the level of facilities available, particularly marinas. (As 95% of the new fleet seem to be motor boats, what has expanded dramatically are dry storage facilities.) All the marinas are full to bursting point, so finding a berth in a marina to leave your boat to travel inland is therefore a major limitation.

Lou and I always prefer to anchor but there are times when for reasons of safety and security we want to leave Pèlerin in a marina, but apart from a couple of ‘yacht friendly’ marinas, that wasn’t at all possible.

Dry boat storage in Brazil

Acres of dry storage, Ilha Grande

And because there are so few yachts, there are even fewer chandleries, so get your spares in advance, because otherwise you’ll likely be importing them from abroad, which will attract 100% import duty—better to have a simple boat and be self-sufficient.

Boatyard, Bahia style!

Boatyard, Bahia style!

The cost. Brazil is no longer an inexpensive destination. The recent economic boom has had major benefits for much of the population, but it has also raised the cost of living dramatically. This was far more noticeable in the cities. When we ventured up the rivers, everything seemed to cost about one third less.

The stranglehold of the marina companies (particularly in the Ilha Grande area) has seen berthing fees reach stratospheric proportions, the highest I think we have ever seen—another disincentive to leave your boat to travel inland.

What We Struggled With:

Security. There’s no doubt that personal safety remains an issue in many areas of Brazil, particularly in the cities (and most particularly in the northern cities). And this is even worse in some of the port areas, where muggers, boardings and robberies aren’t unknown by any means. We took basic precautions at all times, and apart from Lou having her credit card skimmed in Rio, we weren’t affected, but it does wear you down keeping your guard up all the time.

Pelourinho HR

The Pelourinho district is amazing by day, but be on your guard by night

The language. I speak a little Portuguese, but found the Brazilian accent really difficult. As Brazil is such an enormous, self-contained country few people (outside the big cities) speak English (and why should they?), so making yourself understood can be seriously challenging. Every time we muddled through in the end, and while it always remained good natured, it could be incredibly frustrating.

Communications. We seriously underestimated the difficulty of finding adequate internet coverage. This might not affect you, but it certainly affects us, as we both still work, and rely entirely on the internet for that work. Where coverage is available, it tends to be very slow, making the sending of images or large reports highly problematical. In the end this began to have major implications for us, and forced us to change our future plans dramatically—lesson learned.

What We Didn’t Like:

The bureaucracy. Not the officials who were almost always charming and helpful, but the paperwork, and the time it took!

Brazil is a federation of States, and in each state you are supposed to clear in and clear out of a major port. In practice this can easily take a day for each clearance—there seems to be no uniformity of opening hours for each Capitania dos Portos or Policia Federal in each state, and the offices themselves are often miles from each other and/or in really rough run-down port areas, where you have to keep your wits about you. And time and again we got differing messages about what was required in each port. In the end we stuck rigidly to the rules and got through it, but what a nightmare.

While there is a relatively recent law that allows yachts to be left in the care of a marina or boatyard without attracting the 100% duty, this really is only of limited use. If you leave the country, the moment you return the clock starts ticking, and you and your boat have only 90 days to vacate Brazil.

This could be made into a far more viable option if that were to be extended to 180 days, which would allow you to return at your leisure and cruise the Brazilian coast more extensively—as it is such a huge country that would make far more sense, and almost certainly attract a greater number of visiting yachts.

And The Overall Verdict:

Largely positive for the beauty of the country and the warmth of the welcome. The problems we had with internet communications should be viewed as almost uniquely ours. We both enjoyed the country hugely, but I doubt we’d go there with our own yacht again, largely due to the level of bureaucracy, high cost and the quirks of the customs regime. If those elements were to change, though, I’m sure we’d think again.

But it was worth crossing an ocean for!

But it was worth crossing an ocean for!

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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.

23 comments… add one
  • Dick Stevenson Sep 11, 2013, 3:38 pm

    Colin,
    Nice report and very interesting. Our route back to the US has always included the thought of going by Brazil and up the coast. It is always good to know what to expect.
    Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • Colin Speedie Sep 12, 2013, 6:09 pm

      Hi Dick

      One of the things we found lacking when we were planning our voyage was real information on what we could expect – bearing in mind that this changes constantly.

      And given that this is not a detour to be taken lightly, I felt a modest responsibility to offer a balanced view.

      As is always the case, the highs were higher and the lows…. well, you know the rest.

      In the end, I think we won’t really know what it all amounted to some time hence, down the road. Perhaps after we’ve spent more time in some more populous areas.

      Kindest regards

      Colin

  • Dick Stevenson Sep 11, 2013, 3:42 pm

    Can we no longer edit? As I notice I misspelled “coast”. Dick

    • John Sep 11, 2013, 4:10 pm

      Hi Dick,

      Sorry, at the moment I have editing of comments turned off. This is not a standard feature of WordPress (our content management platform) and so we were using a third party plugin to provide that capability. However, it was causing server performance problems and so I was forced to turn it off.

      I’m hoping to turn it on again some time in the future, but the issues are complex.

  • Jim Patek Sep 12, 2013, 10:20 am

    Just wanted to say thanks Colin. A pretty balanced perspective and very much appreciated. Challenging but worth it is how it comes across. Maybe someday.

    Jim

    • Colin Speedie Sep 12, 2013, 6:14 pm

      Hi Jim

      a pleasure as always, and your assessment is absolutely correct.

      If some of the difficulties we encountered were to be addressed, Brazil would become one of the ‘not to be missed’ destinations, and we don’t for a moment regret our time there. But we would have loved to have spent more time exploring, which is simply not an option as things stand.

      Maybe one day….

      Kindest regards

      Colin

  • richard s. Sep 12, 2013, 8:48 pm

    i’m probably not patient enough to cope with all these beauraucatic and language vagaries so i appreciate the heads up about this part of the world…couple of questions please…where were you for the photo ? what is the block and tackle rig for ? thanks

    • Colin Speedie Sep 13, 2013, 6:47 am

      Hi Richard

      I assume you’re looking at the last shot, and it was taken on the evening of New Years Day, approximately 200nM east of Recife, Brazil.

      The block and tackle is the leeward running backstay, which we lead forward with a downhaul from the toe rail to keep it from chafing on the mainsail.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Matt Marsh Sep 12, 2013, 10:27 pm

    That’s an interesting point about Customs and the bureaucracy, Colin. I wonder, now and then, how it’s possible that a politican can get up and say “You know what, we can raise another few million dollars a year by milking extra fees out of visitors”, to a hearty round of applause – and then act surprised when, a year later, tourism revenue is down thirty percent.

    Brazil’s certainly on our “would be interesting to see” list, and a friend’s daughter is working near Rio at the moment (and loves it)…. but unpredictable costs, unpredictable officialdom and reports of quirky and strict local laws in some areas put it relatively far down that list.

    • Colin Speedie Sep 13, 2013, 6:58 am

      Hi Matt

      Absolutely right – these things are never thought through properly, and always result in less revenue, fewer jobs etc. Couple this with the usual comments about wealthy people with ‘luxury yachts’, and cruisers are an easy target. And in a country like Brazil which has punitive import taxes (100%) to protect its economy the consequences of getting it wrong as a boat owner are unthinkable.

      Visiting Brazil would be fine on foot, air etc, and it’s a spectacular and welcoming country, but as it stands there are some considerable obstacles for those arriving by yacht. And we were told by many people that the number of visiting yachts was way down in recent years – coincidence or not?

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Marc Dacey Sep 13, 2013, 12:58 pm

    A very interesting summing-up, Colin, and far more detail on the sort of thing you wish you could read in a place like Noonsite.com…but often do not!

    Right now, it’s a toss-up whether we would stop at Brazil. It will be a few years before we have to decide, but we are certainly considering the Cape Town to Fernando de Noronha route to get back into the Southern Caribbean. Things may have developed more in the cruisers’ favour by then. Not to seem casual about it, but if I want to go a hundred miles up a South American river, there are plenty of choices in countries other than Brazil.

    If, on the other hand, we cruised Patagonia, it might make sense to at least call at Rio! Thanks for blazing the trail…there’s very little written that is current about sailing in Brazilian waters, or so it seems.

    • Colin Speedie Sep 14, 2013, 7:02 am

      Hi Marc

      I’m glad you found it useful – it’s the sort of stuff we wish we’d known in advance! And in defence of Noonsite, they’re entirely dependent on what people submit to them, and I’ve found some useful stuff there in the past.

      We met quite a few boats who did the Cape Town – Salvador route which seems viable (at the right time of year) to avoid the long slog up from Rio against the northeasterlies and foul current. Fernando de Noronha we’d have liked to visit but when we were passing there was a substantial swell from the north, and it’s open to the north….

      Quite a lot of boats seem to head up from Patagonia, then head offshore from say Uruguay to try and pick up the SE trades and head up to the Caribbean direct. Long haul, but theres’ alwasy the possibility of stopping in NE Brazil on the way.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      • Marc Dacey Sep 15, 2013, 12:13 pm

        Again, very helpful information. One can always peruse Jimmy Cornell’s many pilotage/routing books for this sort of thing, but in a world where politics, bureaucracies and the very weather itself seem to be oscillating at a higher frequency than in the past, I find anecdotal/on-the-spot reports to carry more weight than they perhaps once did.

        We considered the harsh Cape Town-Falklands-Patagonia route you suggested, but hadn’t considered that Uruguay/Montevideo (which I understand is very pretty) would make a good jump-off to head due east and then cut straight NNE to get back into the Northern Hemisphere…so that’s also advice that goes in the tackle box.

        I don’t know what sort of deal you have with John H. here in terms of recycling material, but you could make a post on the bureaucratic hurdles of Brazil that would fit the Noonsite.com mandate (which seems mostly to focus on how to prepare for gales of red tape) and offer it to them. I have heard that officials in many countries refer to Noonsite to see how they are being perceived, and that some countries (Fiji comes to mind) have rolled back various “cruiser cash grabs” because of something critical written at that site.

  • Zeek Sep 15, 2013, 9:14 am

    Hi Collin , good report about Brazil, Us an argentinian family sail Brazil a couple years ago in our way north.
    We found Internet in brazil is more extend and easy to find than in Europe or the caribean.
    On Ilha Grande you have many hotel on each island where find wifi, on Rio we anchor down the Pan de Azucar and also excellent Wifi free and fast also.
    In Bahia inside Maragogipe River is more dificult yes , but in Itaparica was good and free.
    Try to find a free signal in Norway or Denmark where we are now!
    In europe is good wifi when you pay for it and pay a lot!
    But nice you enjoy Brasil is a very nice country and huge, yep burocracy is a pain in latin america.
    Next time try Argentina (also a pain on paper works, but worth the visit) where have tons of places to stay on rio de la plata and many chandlerys.
    Is not cheap like it was , but today nothing is cheap anymore :-(((
    Good speed

    Zeek

    • Colin Speedie Sep 18, 2013, 11:14 am

      Hi Zeek

      Thanks for the information. In the end we had to turn around and head North for many reasons, mainly to do with work, and so missed out on Argentina and beyond, which is something (I suspect) we’ll always regret.

      Hope your visit to Europe goes well – don’t miss Scotland if you’re heading back this way. Anchorages everywhere, fantastic scenery, wildlife and people – and not the most expensive place on earth, either.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • rogerio Sep 15, 2013, 9:57 pm

    Loved your comments about my country, Brazil. You are write about bureaucracy and personal safety, but about yacht facilities there are good and cheap marinas in many places if you know how to find them. Must ask to local sailors. Sometimes at fishing villages you can get a good anchorage and people to take care of your boat while you make your way inland.
    Back to bureaucracy. By new law you can stay in the country for 180 days and your boat up to 2 years. After that your boat must leave the country and what most of foreign sailor do is just cross the border of Uruguay or French Guiana and back to Brazil for another 2 years. In Baia da Ilha Grande look for Refúgio da Caravelas, in Cabedelo, Paraiba State, look for Ribeira Adventure Club. in Natal at the yacht club they are very friendly, whith low fees for visitors. In Rio Grande, look for the Museu de Oceonagrafia, dock, electricity and water for free. Hope it is useful. Welcome to Brazil. If you wish more info about nice spots for your boat, feel free to send me an e-mail.

    • Colin Speedie Sep 16, 2013, 10:16 am

      Hi Rogerio

      Thanks for your comments. We did find a few places to leave our boat (Pier Salvador, Marina do Engenho) and also we were very kindly loaned a mooring at Caravelas. Brazilian yachtspeople we met along the way were universally kind and helpful, and I’m sure we could have found other places if necessary.

      But I’m not sure that the Brazilian Customs would take the view that a simply crossing of the border and then re-entering would suffice for a ‘global re-set’ time-wise. We heard of people being refused this facility at the land borders during our stay, and whilst this might be simply a hassle for someone on land with no asset that could be taxed at 100%, if you were to be confronted with that as aboard your yacht you’d be far more worried.

      None of this should detract from what remains a great country, with a wonderful people – just a reminder that you always need to read the small print – carefully.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Chris Phillips Nov 13, 2013, 12:29 pm

    Hello Colin,

    I was reading your articles on your original criteria for selecting an aluminum yacht. You mentioned some features of the Borreal 44 that you wished to incorporate on your Ovni. I’m trying to assess the designs of both companies. Could you comment with me privately on some of your thoughts?

    Best regards,

    Chris

    • John Nov 13, 2013, 1:45 pm

      Hi Chris,

      Colin is traveling right now, but you can contact him directly to enquire about his consulting services over at his site, Wave Action.

    • Colin Speedie Nov 14, 2013, 4:49 pm

      Hi Chris

      I’m very happy to help, but the email address you have sent me doesn’t seem to be working? I’ve tried several times to get back to you, but every time my mails are getting bounced back.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • IgnatRU Jun 1, 2019, 10:48 am

    Hi, glad to read you enjoyed it after all =)
    I am thinking of crossing there myself starting in Spain. Can you suggest please any specific literature / sources of information for the best routing? Also what time of the year?

    Thanks in advance,

    • John Jun 2, 2019, 7:52 am

      Hi IgnatRU,

      It’s unlikely that Colin will answer. See #3 on https://www.morganscloud.com/2013/11/10/aac-comment-guide-lines/

      • IgnatRU Jun 3, 2019, 5:36 am

        Understood, thank you, John!
        I was actually looking for some other article/book chapter to post the same question… May be you can give your suggestions please?

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