Braving The Sea To And From Beautiful Brava

In sailing as in life, there is often a calm before a storm. Cape Verde’s little luscious green island of Brava would make for a calm few days in the SY Staatenlos journey around Cape Verde.

So what would come next? A storm, or a volcanic eruption perchance?

Let’s just explore beautiful Brava — from its mountains to its rock pools — and its distinct fishing culture. Then we’ll see what happens…

Bye-Bye Boa Vista

Our journey around Cape Verde last left off with us anchored off the coast of Boa Vista, another desert island much like the island of Sal, which we had enjoyed exploring for a few days. In Boa Vista, we stayed anchored for about 40 hours without ever going on land.

Approaching Boa Vista

It was very windy there, which made us reluctant to even attempt to sail to the next island, but we finally faced our fear and braved the rocky ride there.

The waves may look calm, but the journey ahead was not for the meek.

We left Boa Vista midday and arrived in Brava the following day just before sunset. The ride from Boa Vista to Brava was the longest we sailed in all of Cape Verde. It was around 150 miles and took about 30 hours to sail.

Sailing away from Boa Vista

The wind was very strong at around 30-35 knots, and there were powerful waves as much as four meters high. We were lucky to be sailing downwind and down-wave, so although the experience was rough, it was bearable.

A rough ride over very high waves

It probably wouldn’t have been possible to sail against the wind and waves, but in the direction we were heading, it helped us to accelerate. More than once, we were practically flying at 12 knots of speed just using our normal sails, which really showed us the power of the sky and sea.

Sailing into the night

It was a wild ride sailing overnight, so much so that a few of us almost fell out of bed, but we already knew it was worth it by the time we began to approach Fogo Island the next morning. Fogo was not our destination yet. We would visit after Brava. For now, we were sailing north of Fogo on our way to Brava.

Fogo Island completely covered by clouds

Fogo is known for its very large volcano, which can be seen sailing from the west or the south. Of course, we were sailing in from the north so we could not see the volcano itself, but we were able to see the very impressive caldera of the volcano.

As we approached from afar, the volcano was completely shrouded by clouds, but as we sailed nearer, the clouds lifted so we could see the peak of the volcano. After we sailed past, the clouds dropped down again like a curtain closing on the dramatic landscape. It only took about two more hours to sail from Fogo to Brava island.

Fogo unveiled

Could this be another opportunity to peek inside an erupting volcano? 🤔

Bem-Vindo to Brava

Brava is the smallest (and greenest) inhabited island of Cape Verde, although what it lacks in circumference it makes up for in the altitude of its beautiful mountains. The island is approximately ten kilometers long and wide, with mountains almost a kilometer tall.

Arrival in Brava

We worried about whether we would be able to anchor there because the ocean was so rough, but luckily it calmed down a bit and the waves became lower shortly before we reached the bay. Brava only has one bay on the map where boats like ours could anchor, which is called Fajā de Agua. The bay was quite beautiful, and despite there still being some swell in the waves, we were able to drop anchor without incident.

Successfully anchored in Fajā de Agua

When we first anchored that afternoon we were the only boat there, but later that evening we were joined by another boat.

SY Staatenlos alone in the bay

When we eventually spoke with the other sailors, we were surprised to find that there were three German guys on the boat. There had been four, but one of them got seasick, so they sent him by ferry to stay on dry land. Like us, they had also sailed from Palma de Mallorca, but rather than sailing across the Atlantic as we planned, they intended to sail back through Mindelo to the Canary Islands and return to Mallorca. They were basically stuck in the bay hanging out with us for a few days because the wind and waves were going in the opposite direction that they needed to return to Mindelo.

And then there were two.

The night we arrived, we decided to take it easy aboard the SY Staatenlos while the German guys from the other boat went to land. Apparently, as soon as they stepped foot on land, they were confronted by the police because they had not registered their boat yet, so they took care of that first thing the next morning. Fajā de Agua is a very small settlement with only a few houses, and they don’t even have any taxis there.

A beautiful bay but not a taxi stand in sight

We had to call one from the capital which took an hour to arrive. We took the taxi to the other side of the island to a port which is only really good for fishing boats. We checked in there with the proper authorities, then went to the police to check in with them as well. 🙄

Day One: Background of Brava

We jumped back in the taxi after sorting out the bureaucratic headache and went to explore the other side of the island. I had found the driver based on a recommendation from a friend, and he turned out to be a really nice guy who spoke fluent English. The driver told us that he has two passports, one for Cape Verde and the other for the U.S.A. He explained to us that a great many Cape Verdeans have emigrated from Brava to the United States, which has been excellent for the island’s economy. He said that many Cape Verdeans regularly send money back to Brava from the U.S., and they often return as wealthy old retirees who contribute greatly to the local economy. Our driver turned out to be the owner of the taxi company, and he had done the same. After many years of working in the U.S., he now enjoys his retirement back in his hometown of Brava.

Exploring beautiful Brava

He also told us a bit about the history of Brava, which translates to “wild” or “brave” in Portuguese. The island was discovered by Portuguese settlers in the 15th century, settlements began to arrive in the 16th century, and in the 17th century, the population increased as many refugees fled from the erupting volcano in Fogo. The driver told us that in the 1800s, they suffered a big disaster that cost the island of Brava more than half of its population. He said there was a big ship headed from Brava to the New World which got wrecked and sank, pulling many of the brave people of Brava down with it. 😓

Mountain views on our tour

Our driver took us to Nova Sintra, which is a surprisingly large town for such a small island. Nova Sintra, the capital of Brava, has something in common with Ribeira Brava, the capital of São Nicolau. Apparently, both capitals of these Cape Verdean islands were established far inland to avoid the onslaught of pirate attacks in the 17th century.

Views of Nova Sintra

We did some shopping in Nova Sintra and saw a lot of the island, which only has one winding, mountainous road leading between the bay of Fajā de Agua where we were anchored, the capital town of Nova Sintra, and the windy fishing port where we had checked in on the other side of the island. We came back and enjoyed a nice afternoon on the boat, with a bit of snorkeling in the bay.

Day Two: A Quaint Village

The next day, I went on a tour of the island with the same driver as the previous days, and my crewmate Corinne (the Italian girl who had joined us in the Canaries and would end up sailing across the Atlantic with us). We saw a few different parts of the island, which we learned is also famous for its vibrant hibiscus flowers that are used to mark the boundaries of individual properties all over the island.

Colorful island

We visited one fishing village on a hill that we noticed was anchoring a sailboat, even though it hadn’t been on our map as an anchorage. It was more beautiful than the bay we were anchored in, and we thought about coming back later to anchor there another day. Something special about this little fishing village is that they still utilize cable cars there, even though the town is just about 100-150 meters up from the water.

Just about the last place that you would expect to see a cable car

The cable car travels up and down the hill this short distance between the village and the water. At the bottom, the fishermen put their catch of the day in a bucket, which is carried up the hill by cable car. When it reaches the top, the fish is removed from the car and prepared by the local women.

To be fair, fish like these would be pretty heavy to carry up the hill.

The driver took us around basically every street on the island on which it is possible to drive. Although the island is small, it is full of little streets and boasts many nice views. We went to a few different parts of the island where, when there was a break in the clouds, we had lovely views of the small green island and/or the volcano on the neighboring island of Fogo.

A stunning view of the island

We had thought about leaving the next day, but the weather was still quite rough and we preferred to wait for it to settle down a bit before crossing to Fogo.

Day Three: A Hike and a Dip

The next day we went on a hike that our driver had recommended to us. He picked us up along with the three German guys who were anchored next to us, who had decided to join us for the hike. He drove us up the winding mountain roads to a mountain peak which had a nice path down that was full of scenic viewpoints.

Another amazing viewpoint

I had brought the drone with me to capture some photos of the island from above, but there was unfortunately too much wind to get any good footage. It was a nice walk down with great views of Fogo, the ocean, local animals, water canals, reservoirs, and we could even see views of our boat in the bay.

A friendly face on our hike

At some points, the hike was quite challenging because it was very hard on our knees, much like the long stone path we hiked before in Santo Antão. However, unlike the beautiful stone road of Santo Antão, this road was sometimes a nice stone path, and other times we had to be careful of slippery gravel. It took us about three hours to complete the hike from the mountain peak back down to the bay.

Steep mountain path

After the hike, Corinne and I went swimming in some natural rock pools which were just about a 45-minute walk from where we were anchored in Fajā de Agua. Although the waves around the island were generally too powerful to swim, the rock pools were very safe because the rocks broke the powerful waves. There was a nice current there with some colorful coral and fish. It was refreshing to take a dip in the natural pool after our long hike, and it was cool to see the waves breaking over the rocks and still have some protection to swim safely. After enjoying the rock pools, we returned to the boat for the night.

Enjoying a relaxing dip after a long hike

One More Bay in Brava

We were ready to leave Brava the next day, but the conditions were still rougher than we wanted to sail to Fogo. We decided to sail to the southwest and anchor in the fishing port we had visited a few days before.

SY Staatenlos in the local fisherman port

That port is in the shadow of the island with very little wind and waves, which made it a nice place for us to anchor with lots of fish and nice coral to see. We just anchored there for a few hours to relax and enjoy some snorkeling. 😎

Not a bad spot to snorkel!

While we were there, we took advantage of the opportunity to have the hull of our boat cleaned by some local guys. It needs to be cleaned every few weeks or every month to protect the boat from the mussels, mollusks, barnacles, and algae that accumulate underneath. A couple of fishermen in the bay wanted to sell us their catch, but we hired them instead to clean the boat for $20, which was about two hours of work. For us, it’s not a lot, but for the fishermen, that’s a lot of money.

Local fishermen rowed over to help clean the boat

We played reggaeton music and snorkeled around while they cleaned the hulls of the boat. We also finally had good weather conditions to fly the drone, so we got some great photos of the bay, the fisherman village, and Brava from above.

View of the fishing fleet from above

Fearsome Passage to Fogo

We had lunch and then sailed back around Brava on our way to Fogo Island. The journey to Fogo was about 15 miles, which we could do in around 3 hours. Almost as soon as we left the bay though, the wind picked up and the waves started to build up, getting bigger and heavier with every minute.

Huge waves coming from the front as we sailed to Fogo 😨

We had experienced the channel effect before on our way to São Nicolau, but this time it was working against us and made our journey infinitely more challenging and less fun. My skipper, Josh, was scared because the waves were so high and the sea was so shallow, and now the waves were not propelling us from behind but rather smashing into us. It was quite unpleasant and Josh wanted to return to the bay we had come from, but we made the difficult decision to push through. They were probably some of the highest waves we faced on our entire trip, but luckily it was only strong for about 30 minutes before the wind and waves decreased. In the end, we were happy that we made it, and we arrived in Fogo just in time to see the sun set on the volcanic island.

Nightfall in Fogo… and foreshadowing of what’s to come when the story continues.

Join us next time to explore Fogo Island!