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.
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.All Cape Verde Voyages
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. Flying fish skip between the wave crests and you may see whales or dolphins. We saw an osprey on Sao Nicholau 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.
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.
The sea is rich in wahoo, tuna and in every port you see small boats unloading daily and wheel barrow loads of fresh fish or seafood trundling down the jetties. 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.
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.
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.All Cape Verde Voyages
Impressive three masted topsail schooner Oosterschelde is our Cape Verde specialist. This will be her 7th season island hopping and exploring this stunning archipelago. She originally decided to over winter in Cabo Verde as the husband of a past Captain of Oosterschelde was a Cape Verdean, and 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.
Oosterschelde is a 1917 historic tall ship that once carried cargoes around Europe and Africa. Oosterschelde has sailed as far as the Arctic and Antarctica and sailed around the world twice, including a rounding of Cape Horn purely under sail in 2013. 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. 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 1930s when she was converted into a modern coaster. A charitable foundation restored her to sail and she is now registered as a ‘historic national monument’ by the Dutch Government. Classic Sailing now have four ships that are registered historic ships in their own country, but earn their living at sea as adventure charter vessels.
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.
Oosterschelde generally hires a local guide as a deckhand, and to act as a guide ashore. Ario was our guide and he arranged some great all day jeep safaris, mountain walks, meals in the homes of locals and much more. Nothing ashore was compulsory and the costs were shared by those who signed up. Typically around €30.00 for a jeep safari to explore an island with stops for big and small walks, national park visits, camel rides, local meals or swims in the sea and rockpools. Please note jeep tours are optional exrasa at about €30.00 per person but well worth it.
She has extremely elegant accommodation for a sail training ship, including a huge saloon with a piano, library and bar. In the tropics she has a ventilation system and all cabins have big skylights you can open for a cooling breeze through the ship. There are 6-7 professional crew and 24 guest berths so there is a great ratio of staff to guest voyage crew to learn about traditional sailing, navigation and ocean wildlife. The ships wheel is beautiful and there is nothing to beat helming at 11-12 knots in brilliant blue seas in shorts and t shirt on a 300 ton schooner. Oosterschelde carries 3 square sails and her masts have very steep ratlines so there is plenty of challenge if you want to work aloft…or climb up for the view.
You do not need any sailing experience to join Morgenster for a sailing expedition in Cape Verde as the ships crew will teach you how to set sails or steer the ship. There are good trade winds and plenty of open ocean between islands so there is no much tacking or gybing to do once the ship is going fast, so lap up the sun, read a book, or wander below and see what the chef is cooking.
Please remember you are guest crew on a sailing ship and there is no such thing as an itinerary. Everything is dependant on the weather, swell conditions and sometimes the strength and stamina of the guest crew. Cape Verde has pretty predictable wind directions most the time so the ship will take advantage of that knowledge. There will be overnight sailing on a couple of passages, and the stars are awesome if there is no Sahara dust in the atmosphere. If you do get dust from Africa then it creates stunning sunsets, but a need to navigate carefully as it often looks clear in the bright sunlight, but there is a haze present. Places you may visit – it will not be possible to go to all these places in the time allowed and the choice will be made by the skipper in light of the weather and crews abilities and or wishes.
On this voyage we will visit at least five or six islands. These are approximately a day of sailing apart. After each leg we take the time to explore the island of destination. At night we will mostly be anchored, but in some cases we will keep sailing through the night.
The landing places are carefully selected and on most islands that we visit we will organise an excursion with local guides.
Upon arrival on Ilha do Sal you travel to Palmeira on your own accord, for example by taxi. The ‘Oosterschelde’ is waiting for you there, anchored in the bay. Palmeira is a rustic town where you will find few tourists. The island Sal is desert-like, with miles-long sand beaches. On the south side of the island there is the fisher’s village Santa Maria where the larger hotels and busy tourist attractions are located.
The following morning you have time to take a stroll, make a visit to the town or take a dive in the ocean before we set sail. While sailing from the windward to the Leeward Islands we have the wind in our back. The passengers are divided up in shifts and are encouraged to participate in all duties onboard, from navigation, steering to trimming the sails. Those who dare can climb the mast to see the world from up a yard of a big sailing vessel. The crossing to Santiago is approximately 110 miles; we expect to arrive somewhere during the night.
We anchor in the beautiful bay of the village Tarrafal. Santiago is the most African island with mountains and green valleys. We will spend the entire day on the island. With a taxi bus we travel across the island to visit the colourful markets of the capital Praia and the oldest city of the Archipelago, Cidade Velha. In the inlands we find mango trees, banana plantations and old grog factories, where the sugar cane is still grinded by a grinding stone pulled on by a cow.
We will not come back onboard until the evening. It is no exception that spontaneous parties start on the beach here, where everyone is dancing to the swinging Cape Verdean music.
The crossing from Santiago to São Vicente is the longest leg of this journey. Close-hauled and with most of the sails set we push ‘Oosterschelde’ to her limits. The night will be spent on the sea.
To reach the gentile beach of Mindelo we sail between the islands São Vicente and Santo Antão. Because of the venturi-effect the winds are usually very strong. Mindelo, on São Vicente, is the largest harbour and the second largest city of Cape Verde. There are restaurants, an indoor market, cafés and souvenir shops. A little beach offers a chance to go swimming.
Santo Antão is considered the most beautiful island of the archipelago. It is also the greenest and most fertile of the islands. With the ferry from Mindelo we sail to Santo Antão and let a taxi bus take us to the edge of the volcanic crater.
From this point we take a walk down to Ribeira Grande. The variations in the landscape and the breathtaking views make this a walk to never forget.
Today we sail close past the coasts of several islands. On our way to São Nicolau we pass Santa Lucia, one of the uninhabited islands of the archipelago. It is very rich in fish so we throw out a fishing line to test our luck. Due to the large number of sharks, swimming is not recommended.
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.
On São Nicolau we visit the beautiful worn basalt formations and drive up to the last remainders of a primeval forest in the mountains.
Another amazing leg of our voyage that will take us to Boa Vista. A considerable distance from the village we drop anchor, as it will not be possible to come closer to the shore. The rubber dinghy is used to go to shore, but due to safety precautions we only undertake this during daylight. Boa Vista is one of the islands on which mass tourism is developing. Along the coastline several resorts have risen from the ground. The beaches are indeed beautiful and the inland is known for its remarkable moving sand dunes.
DAY 10 AND 11
The last crossing, from Boa Vista to Ilha do Sal, will probably be made with help of the engine. We drop anchor at Santa Maria, which has already been a touristic spot for some time. The upside is that there is plenty of opportunity to buy souvenirs or get some ice-cream. The last day of your holiday can be spent lying on the beach or renting a surfboard.
The first sail usually starts with100 miles downwind with a day and night passage to Tarafal on Santiago to find your sea legs. Sal has amazing white beaches and turquiose seas and the cross shore winds on the beach at Santa Maria is becoming a mecca for kite surfers. Santiago in the leeward islands is a total contrast with high mountains and cobbled mountain roads. A full day exploring the interior by jeep and mountain walking on foot can be arranged (jeep excursion costs were very cheap and split amongst the guest crew – approx £12-20 a head)All Cape Verde Voyages
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.’
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.
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.
Sao Nicolau is our guide Ario’s home island and a jeep safari accross the mountains to the wild windward coastline is spectacular. Swim in the wildest natural infinity pool ever – if you dare – with waves crashing against the vertical cliffs below.
The last island is usually Boa Vista and back to an up and coming water sports 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.