24 - TORRES, Southern Brasil (written July, typed Sept./Nov. 2005)
With a strong wind behind us we romped along over the white spume flecked waves heading south from Enseada da Pinheira towards the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul – for all of about 36 hours! Then the radio weather report told us that our favourable weather-window had shut and a head wind was on the way. Head winds are not only unwelcome but we have noticed that they always arrive at the most inconvenient times – like the middle of the night!
The distance from Santa Catarina Island to Rio Grande is about 300 nautical miles, with a further 250 to Uruaguay. That would take Dalkiri at least 6 days, allowing for a good daily run of 100 miles; but as weather windows seldom last that long, the plan was to stop mid-way at Rio Grande. The coast along this stretch of Brasil is inhospitable, like South Africa it has no ports of shelter enroute, although the Pilot book mentions several places in the northern half used by fishing vessels. When the SW wind arrived we were already south of the last of these last resort bolt-holes Rio Mampituba, where the pilot warned that local knowledge was needed but that ships of 500 tonnes could anchor safely. As we are nowhere near as big as that, we felt sure it would be ‘ok’ for us. (Remember that expression “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”?) We headed for this river avoiding the island and reefs to the south and could see a fair sized city of high-rise buldings behind a long white sandy beach. We located the ends of the breakwaters through the gray misty early morning light, against which we could see waves crashing and big surf pounding in on the sweep of beach to the north. A fishing vessel came up and told us to follow him in. He headed directly for the end of the south breakwater and at the last moment (about 2m away from some ugly looking rocks, which I felt sure we were going to hit) he turned to the right and into the channel; either his engine or the sea churned up the sand as we passed over the shallow bar! Jess was at the helm as I do not have the nerve to steer straight towards danger with the depth decreasing all the while; to be honest it was all a bit of a blur, partly because I was hiding below marking positions on the GPS. We continued to follow the fishing boat, more to one side then back to the other and when we were about 200m up the channel he stopped to say we were safe now. How nice, not to mention fortunate; it was low tide and we might not be here to tell the tale had he not been there to guide us in, a fact we were only to truly appreciate later.
We continued a little further up the river past water-front restaurants on the south bank and fish factories along the north. Ahead was a pedestrian suspension bridge, too low for our mast to pass beneath, so we turned back looking for a suitable place to tie up. The fishing boats we guessed worked for the factories they were tied up against, but there was an open dock along which there were several rod fishermen. While we were wondering what to do, we were hailed by a whistler, who indicated that we should come alongside. A concrete slab extended to the river bank, the edge of which still had the timber shuttering embedded in it and along which several truck and tractor tyres hung, keeping a vessel off the wooden supports and rock rubble below. Old motor drive shafts had been hammered into the slab as tie-up points to which we attached various lines with the help of the friendly people from the fish factory. This factory seemed to be a middle man operation, cleaning an packing but not having vessels directly unloading, which is why their frontage was not in use. The next lot looked abandoned with a collapsed roof.
We had a stream of visitors wanting to know all about us: had we rolled in the entrance (!), were we damaged, engine problems? Where were we from; are we a couple, do we have children and where are they; and why are we t/here? Did wonders for my Portuguese, repeating the same information so often.
The fishing village Passo de Torres is in Santa Catarina on the north bank and the high-rise resort town of Torres, to the south, is in Rio Grande Sul. Rio Mampituba forms part of the boundary between the two states. Residents move back and forth over the pedestrian bridge or use the ferry, which carries both motorized and horse-drawn traffic.
This ferry is guided by a system of overhead wires and pulleys and is propelled by a motorized dinghy, which is attached to its side in the middle on a pivot. When the ferry reaches the landing, the dinghy is swung around and propels it back towards the opposite bank.
The river runs quite fast, which together with the surge coming up from the sea, caused us to strain against our docking ropes, proving too much for two of our fenders which ripped off and had to be rescued from the rushing water. The middle tractor tyre, which was helping to keep us off the concrete slab, frayed through its restraining ropes and fell into the water but was too heavy to retrieve. Jess was kept busy checking the anti-chafe material on the ropes. Offsetting this anxious time, we were able to enjoy hot showers, courtesy of the fish factory.
Unfortunately thieves stole the Penn fishing reel, removing it from the rod, they also took the small collapsible rod, this occurred while we were aboard. Still have not figured out when it happened as the factory gates were locked all night and Jess swears it was there first thing in the morning, so it must have happened while we were breakfasting? Suspect a couple of kids who hung about but who can say; we should have known better than to leave equipment outside. Before we went ashore we locked everything movable – bit late!
Crossing the suspension bridge was quite unnerving, it’s quite unsteady and moves so there is no time to look around and quite a relief to get to the other side. Walked upriver where we could see the remains of what had once been a low level bridge, now only the support pillars remain. We found a supermercado and asked for directions to a cambio and were told “centro”. Took us a while before we managed to locate the central district where we found the main tourist area with 3 cambios, only one of which was open, grouped around a central plaza which has a wrought iron band stand and benches (reminded us of Pietermaritzburg). The commercial center reminded us a bit of Durban, lots of high-rise holiday flats but the shops are only 1 or 2 stories high. As it was out of season all the shops close for lunch, except the tourist-beach and photo shops, flea-market stalls and internets. We passed a saddlery cum pet shop in the main street, where horse drawn passenger and cargo carts clattered alongside motorized buses.
Oddly enough for a tourist town the Banco de Brasil was unable to change Travelers cheques! Told us it could be done at the airport at Porto Alegre the capital about 200 kms away. So we had to change dollars at the Cambio where along with poor rates ($ keeps dropping) we got a map so at least we knew where we were going. We were later able to change cheques at the Bradesco Banco.
Torres means tower and along this stretch of coast, which is low and sandy the basalt headland on which the lighthouse is located, is a prominent feature. The lighhouse overlooks a small island and reef. We walked up the hill to the lighthouse, which glints in the sun because the walls are covered with white tiles. The lighthouse overlooks a small island reserve and reef, from here there are good views of the breakwaters and the wide beach, fringed with hotels, all deserted at this time of year. The headland has a number of small beaches at its foot, separated by rock-strewn ridges making access difficult, while to the south sand dunes stretched inland.
Rio Mampituba meanders across this wide river plain towards the mountains in the west, about 30 kms away, and is crossed by the national north-south road route about 10 kms inland. The local fishing boats moor several kms upriver, having first dropped their antenna and navigation masts in order to get under the suspension bridge; they tie up several abreast at timber jetties, or stern-to along the river banks.
There are a number of boat-yards upriver where new boats are built and others are hauled out for repairs etc. It’s a bit like stepping back in time because all these vessels (30-60 ft) are built of wood, using hand tools such as adze to shape the large timbers and its all so heavily built one wonders if they will float. Even the caulking process uses traditional methods, we saw cotton-fibre tamped between the outer planks of a vessel being overhauled. A small wood burning, boiler is used to steam the beams individually to shape and of course all the wood comes from the Amazon. (All the fishermen knew Dalkiri’s length in feet, a measurement widely used here but only for boat length / beam.)
The fishermen’s families seem to live alongside the river in a variety of informal type houses, straddled between the reclaimed marshy banks and sand dunes. Most of the houses are built of wood (plenty in Brasil) and have rain-water collection barrels on the roof. Most have electricity, although there were no satellite dishes and only a few TV antennas to be seen.
Along the river-banks close to the breakwaters, there are a number of small concrete platforms used by people having cast nets. A large bottlenose dolphin is resident in the river and s/he chases/herds the fish towards the fishermen, who when they see the dolphin let out a cheer and those closest throw their nets. Seems to be a happy arrangement (first dolphin we had seen since leaving Namibia) We met a young man Breno who cast his net standing in a flat-bottomed boat, who gave us some tiny sardines, which Jess butterfly filleted and fried for lunch – delicious. He taught Jess to throw our cast-net Brasilian style: first a piece of the net (twice as big as SA) is held in the mouth, then one hand separates the net into 2 halves, the net is then swung and thrown using both arms, the piece in the mouth released last, which helps in the spreading of the net. Breno also told us about the various methods used by the local fishing vessels, drawing simple diagrams and labeling them with the local names. He spoke no English but this did not stop us from enjoying the company of this engaging young man.
Early one morning we felt a bump and found a fishing boat needing our berth. There were already 3 stacked up outside the ‘Madeira’ fish factory next-door and other waiting, so we had to move. As we maneuvered further out in the river we saw a yacht down-steam docked at the property with a tall flagstaff, which we thought might be some sort of private club. We hailed the skipper enquiring about his draft, he answered in English and we noticed our friend Breno was also aboard. We tied up outside another factory, closer to the bridge, with the help of the original factory people who explained that the usual occupant had gone to sea and would not be back or several days. There were 3 guard dogs on the premises; the beagle on a leash guarded the river front and could reach us, the Labrador was attached to the refrigerated-container standing in the yard, and the alsation wandered freely – biggest danger was being licked to death! The alsation followed Jess across the road to the nearby supermarket (about 30m away), waited outside while he bought fresh morning rolls and then followed him home. They always barked at new arrivals however, alerting us to visitors.
The F/V ‘Cruxera’ returned one evening while we were enjoying coffee and admiring the sunset. We tried berthing behind her but there was not enough depth against the wall so we rafted up alongside her. We spent a very quiet night with no squeaking tyres against the hull, no bumping on the bottom and we could not even hear the motor running in the cold-storage container. They unloaded their catch the following day, took about 4 hours; Jess saw espada, skate, sole, grouper and many others he did not know.
We met Marcello the skipper of the yacht we had seen and went with him to buy fuel at a 24 hour Truck Service Station on the main national road about 10-15 kms. Away. He explained that only the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have Marine grade fuel, elsewhere up to 15% gasoline is added to diesel. Alcohol is added to petrol, so he buys Premium, which costs more but as he runs a 15hp outboard he does not need it giving trouble.
Marcello told us how to judge the level of the tide by watching whether it was flowing in/out of the lagoon. This small lagoon enters the river about 200m inland from the river mouth, several rows of houses lie between it and the beach. A road from the village continues over a culvert at the lagoon mouth to these houses, the beach and the north breakwater. When the tide is out, or low, local fishermen pole/push their way through this small culvert tunnel with just enough clearance if they duck down into their flat bottomed boats. The slack period at high tide would be the best time to clear the river entrance Marcello advised, as there would be sufficient depth and the opposing forces of the river and sea would cancel each other. Marcello left early the following morning taking the yacht ‘Charrua’ to Florianoplois (little did we know then that several months later we would be able to see Charrua again from where we were anchored in Florianopolis). Jess walked to the lagoon to look at the sea conditions a few days later and saw Marcello again, who introduced him to the owner of Churrua and he invited us to tie up at his private dock and to use the shore facilities of the dock-house. (Charrua is the name of a local South American Indian tribe.) The dock is situated on a triangle between the lagoon and river, making it more exposed to the tidal surge than the fish factory berths further up-river, which are also protected by a curve in the river. Fortunately Marcello and Martin the gardener were on hand to take our ropes and help tie us up.
Jess was thrilled to have a kitchen again – and what a kitchen! Double sinks, draining racks overhead, a selection of huge catering pots, pans, woks (way too big for our use); gas oven (with folding door!), the usual Brasilian catering size gas-hob (our tiny pots were enveloped by the flames). There was the charrusco pit (braai/BBQ), charcoal or gas fired, with all its attendant utensils. A fridge (almost forgotten how to use one, ha-ha), banks of lights over all working surfaces and of course enough crockery and cutlery to entertain largely. Appropriately enough the décor was nautical with flags, floats and buoys hung from the rafters supporting the thatched roof. Even the extractor fan continued the theme by exiting through a genuine brass port-hole. This summer structure could be opened up on 3 sides; the south onto the river (and us); the east onto the garden and pool, with a wonderful view straight down river, through the breakwaters and out to sea; while the north entry lead towards the main house and gates. Another churrasco area which contained a revolving spit, was close by this last entrance. From one extreme to another – our tiny onboard galley about half metre square, to a kitchen designed for entertaining – we reveled in it. What a joy to be able to clean the decks and awnings with a fresh water-hose and to plug the battery charger into the 220V electricity supply. We connected the computer (Graham’s) into the transformer and H typed all day, taking the opportunity to catch up on some correspondence.
Our hosts Jorge and Ila arrived for the weekend and invited us up to the main-house. Jorge consulted Brasilian weather sites on the Internet and advised against leaving on the morrow as planned, suggesting a charrusco instead. We were also properly introduced to the dogs, we had always ensured previously that the gardener was around when we ventured forth. During the week, Jorge and Ila, both architects, live and work in Porto Alegre, Torres is their week-end retreat..
About 20 years ago they cruised with their young children and Marcello, along the Brasilian coast to the USA, this makes them particularly sympathetic to other cruisers, knowing how much a hot shower can mean. Ila has an extensive herb garden and she urged us to make use of it, also giving us the Portuguese names (which our limited dictionary does not supply). They bought the property some 30 years ago when there was nothing else around, as the area developed the road running to the beach was built through their land, so that today the tennis courts and gardener’s house are separated from the main complex. Everyone in the village knows them. They built a partially enclosed dock where they had hoped to keep their yacht, but the surge together with the many wakes from summer holiday boat traffic caused them to abandon the idea. The current yacht designed and project managed by Jorge, was built at the local boat-yard upriver, which he took us to and showed us around.
A man of many talents, Jorge cooked a local specialty for lunch, a gaucho (cowboy) dish – rice, maize, bacon and spices- washed down with champagne (bit more sophisticated than your usual cowboy grub!) [Decorating tip: champagne/wine corks make great ground cover for plant containers.] The way I go on about food, maybe I should call these letters “Entertaining in Brasil”!? Subscription rates to be advised/
The next morning we watched the sun rise over a quiet flat bar and by 8am we were on our way with a weather forecast which promised fair. A last wave to Breno our fishing friend as we left Rio Mabituba with 0,4m below the keel and only one swell pushing up the river. Heather & Jess, onboard Dalkiri
WARNING : Rio Mampituba/Torres (29.20S - 049.43W)
Although we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, we cannot warn too strongly against entering this dangerous river. Every day we tried to make sense out of the water levels and watched the local fishing boats carefully; but there were days when even with their powerful engines they would not attempt crossing the bar. We were extraordinarily lucky.
Cruising hint: Take the biggest fenders you can stow – you will never regret it when you find yourself next to a fishing boat or a crude jetty.
P.S. Sept. We have had heavy rains during the past few weeks and one TV News broadcast showed rivers to the north and south of Mampituba where the levels had increased by 2 and 4m. We feel sure that the boatyards and village must have had wet feet and it would have been impossible to remain moored where we were..