Exploring Wreckage From The Volcanic Island Of Fogo

Would there be an eruption during the SY Staatenlos’s visit to the Cape Verdean island of Fogo?

I’ll spare you the suspense.

The volcano will not erupt during our stay, and lava will not destroy the SY Staatenlos.

However, we will encounter wreckage both at sea and on the island, due in part but not entirely to a recent volcanic eruption. Read on to see what wrecked and what was wrecked…

Approaching Fogo with caution

The saga of the SY Staatenlos last left us battling fierce wind and high waves sailing from the small, green island of Brava to the volcanic island of Fogo in Cape Verde. We had passed the island of Fogo on the way to Brava, catching a glimpse of the formidable volcano when the clouds lifted as we sailed past. Now we returned to Fogo just in time to see the sun set over the island, after a harsh journey sailing from Brava.

My skipper Josh and I contemplating the rough waves we faced sailing from Brava to Fogo Island

Of Cape Verde’s many mountainous islands, Fogo possesses the largest volcano and the highest mountain. When we finally anchored at the port after a very challenging ride over, we were warmly welcomed by the locals who told us that we were the first boat to anchor there in the last 13 months.

The port of Fogo has a bad reputation for having a lot of swell in the harbor, which makes it difficult for boats to enter safely. Once a boat has successfully entered the harbor, it is still not out of danger’s way because boats are not very well protected in this harbor. Someone should always stay on the boat keeping an eye out because the anchor may not hold the boat down, and it could drift away and land (or “crash” may be a more accurate term) on the nearby rocks or reef. 😨

The view as we entered the port of Fogo

This unfortunate fate has befallen many ships on Fogo Island. One such incident happened to the cargo ship “Deimos Panama,” which is a giant at 94 meters long, 15 meters wide and 5.5 meters deep, with a capacity for more than 3,000 tons of cargo. On the morning of Friday the 13th, November, 2020 the ship had an engine failure and lost control, crashing into the rocky shore, where it still remained when we arrived a couple months later.

We decided to anchor the SY Staatenlos just about 200 meters away from this enormous wreck. After the rough ride over from Brava, we hoped that anchoring next to the unlucky cargo ship would not be a bad omen for our visit to Fogo Island.

At anchorage near the wreck… we hoped this would not be our final destination 😬

The wrecked cargo ship is heavily protected by guards on the cliffs above. The guards ward off and send away anyone who dares to approach the shipwreck by land. My crew and I don’t much appreciate being told what we can and cannot do, so we found a way to get around the guards and check out the shipwreck anyway.

We couldn’t have penetrated the defense of the freighter by land, so instead, we explored the cargo ship by flying the drone above and around it. It was quite fun, and the guards couldn’t stop the drone from getting a good view. 😝

Bird’s eye view from the drone

You may remember that Josh got into a bit of trouble at the Blue Eye on the island of Sal when the guards wanted to prevent him from getting too close to the edge for a photo. Now on Fogo Island, Josh decided to continue to defy authority, but this time he didn’t come up against any pesky security guards because he outsmarted them (as had we with the use of the drone).

Instead, he took the dinghy to check out the wrecked boat from below, out of the guards’ reach. As much as he may have wanted to, Josh resisted the temptation to climb on the wrecked cargo ship, so the guards couldn’t say anything to stop him.

The view down below

A Warm Welcome

When we first arrived in Fogo and were still aboard the boat, we noticed a local guy excitedly waving to us from the beach. We weren’t sure what to think, but almost immediately, another local guy jumped into the water and came swimming over to the boat.

At first, we wondered if he was a beggar who would ask for money, but the guys turned out to be friends of our tour guide from Brava. The friend of our guide in Brava didn’t speak any English, but he got us a Cape Verdean guy who did, and he swam right up to the boat to welcome us.

It was a cool way to be greeted, so we invited him on board for a beer. We chatted a bit and he helped us plan what to do with our time on Fogo Island. We decided to take an island tour on the first day, and the second day I arranged for us to climb up the volcano.

Not a bad swim from the beach to the boat

That evening, I spent quite a while at a nice restaurant in the town of Fogo where I enjoyed a juicy steak and a big bottle of wine to myself.

Fogo Island Tour

The next day we went on a tour around the whole island with the driver. We didn’t go directly up to the volcano that day, but we had good views of it from below and all around. The best views of the volcano are on the southwest side of the island, so we started our tour by driving there.

In late 2014, the volcano had a big eruption that caused a great deal of lava to flow into the sea, creating the caldera and destroying a village on the way down. We drove to that area and just checked it out from the car. It made for a nice viewpoint, though it wasn’t quite like the big island of Hawaii, where I got to see lava flowing into the ocean shortly before Mt. Kilauea erupted and wiped out much of the Leilani Estates.

A nice view of the volcano from the southwest side

Next, we went to see some coffee plantations. Higher up on the volcano of Fogo, the climate is perfect for growing coffee and a variety of other crops. Then we visited a little town, where we had lunch.

A beautiful viewpoint on our tour

After that, we went to the northern side of the island which is very lush, wet and green.

The sea is very rough there, similar to the waves we had experienced when we sailed to Fogo. However, from the shore, those waves are ideal for surfing, so lots of the local kids were out catching waves.

There were a few nice viewpoints in the area as well. We then went to a place with a lot of underwater caves and blowholes. We saw many families there just out enjoying the day.

Lush green landscape

We also went to São Filipe, the capital of Fogo and the second oldest town in Cape Verde.

View of São Filipe from above (and a pretty cool spider)

It’s a very picturesque, clean, colonial town which may even be my favorite in all of Cape Verde. It has very colorful houses, 70% of which date back to the 19th century, and all of which appear to be well maintained.

Some old colonial buildings

It also has a nice promenade, a big local market (called the Market Hall, where all the local farmers go to sell their produce), and a nicely renovated church boasting two bell towers.

Ripe produce at the local market

All in all, the tour was beautiful but fairly uneventful, and I found the landscape to be relatively barren. There were no astonishing sights, just the volcano of Fogo which we would climb the next day.

Corinne (who you should remember, the Italian girl who joined the crew in the Canaries and would sail with us across the Atlantic) and I went to sleep early that evening in preparation for our volcanic adventure, which would begin the following morning at 5:00 am.

The local church… time to pray that we survive tomorrow’s climb.

Climbing the Volcano

The next morning, Corinne and I awoke before sunrise. Josh stayed on board to take care of the boat so it wouldn’t crash into the nearby rocks. The giant cargo ship run aground next to us provided a constant reminder to be careful with the catamaran, lest the same fate befall the SY Staatenlos.

Anchored just close enough to the shipwreck

We went with the same guide from the day before, who drove about an hour to bring us to the volcano. It was still very dark when we arrived. The stars shone brightly in the sky, framing the volcano in pinpoints of brilliant light.

Slowly, the sky became lighter, gradually illuminating the silhouette of the volcano and revealing more and more details as the sun rose. Rather than sitting on top of the volcano for the sunrise, we watched it in all of its glory from down below. Then, we began our tedious hike up.

A perfect sunrise at the volcano

The volcano of Fogo has the highest peak in all of Cape Verde, rising 2,829 meters above sea level. Furthermore, it is one of the tallest volcanoes in the Atlantic. The car took us up about 1,500 meters, and the rest of the volcano we climbed ourselves. We started the hike near a town that was destroyed by the last eruption in 2015.

Ready to climb the volcano!

There were nice views of the town below as we ascended. We saw grapevines as we climbed, which are used to produce very tasty volcanic wine. This is the only place in Cape Verde where they grow grapes to make wine, which we would have the pleasure of tasting later, after the hike.

Sunrise view of the little town

When we reached the peak of the volcano, we saw breathtaking views (although to be fair, at that point I was already out of breath 😂). On one side we could see the towering cliffs of the caldera, and the other side was open with views of the Atlantic Ocean and the island of Santiago in the distance.

Climbing up, with the shadow of the volcano behind me

It was a difficult hike that took us about six hours total- four hours to go up and two hours to go back down to the town.

A very challenging path up the volcano

It was truly exhausting to walk over the volcanic ash at the top of the caldera, but it was a lot of fun to go back down because we could run and slide through the ash. Toward the end of our climb, I had to take a break every couple of minutes just to catch my breath.

Footprints in the volcanic ash. Climbing here was no easy feat and not quite like my sand dune extravaganza in Sudan

Even though it was a challenge, I made it up to the top and it was well worth it for the view at the summit. The morning sunlight created dramatic lighting, making for incredible photos and views on top of the volcano.

We could see down into the crater where there is no lava, but there are a few puffs of smoke coming out. Despite the lack of lava, the rocks are very hot there. You couldn’t stand in any one place for too long or the bottom of your shoes could start to melt.

A far cry from my experience above the crater of Mount Yasur in Vanuatu. But still don’t stand here for too long…

The best part of the day was definitely the view from the top of the volcano. We were lucky to be there on a perfect day with an exceptionally clear sky. We could see the islands of Brava, Santiago (where we would sail the next day), and even São Nicolau, which is significantly farther away.

The volcano of Fogo is the one place where, from the peak on a clear day, you can see pretty much all of the Cape Verdean islands. The view there was a highlight of my trip to Cape Verde.

On top of the Atlantic

Coming Back Down to Earth

After enjoying the amazing views on top of the volcano, we decided to take a different path down than we had taken up. The first half-hour going back down the volcano was stressful, to say the least. We couldn’t slip or slide on this part of the volcano, and we had to be very cautious about where we put our feet so that we wouldn’t fall.

Taking in one last view from the top

After that, we decided to go back to the easier part where you can “ski” down the face of the volcano by running down very fast and letting yourself slide in the volcanic ash.

I already knew how to do it because I had done it a couple of times before, most recently at Etna Volcano in September, so I just went ahead and ran down. On the way up the volcano, Corinne proved herself to be very fit and much faster than me, but on the way back down, I sped right past her.

After that initial part, it only took us about 30 minutes to go back down the rest of the volcano. From there we still had to walk back to the village, which took about another hour.

What a hike!

One Last Afternoon in Fogo

Back in the village, we visited a vineyard where grapes are grown for wine. The volcanic soil is very fertile, so they grow some other fruit there as well. While the soil is rich, the wine production on Fogo Volcano is quite limited. There used to be many more wineries there, but the majority were destroyed by the last volcanic eruption. Fogo is still an active volcano, so now they only produce wine on a small scale in case of another disaster.

We sampled a few wines at the winery, which were all very tasty. I really enjoy the taste of the wine they grow in this particular region. The locals drink wine like it’s water, so we got a little tipsy from the wine tasting right after the hike. I enjoyed a nice little nap on the drive back to the port.

The view back at the bottom after our arduous climb

We had lunch at the same restaurant I had visited before, to enjoy some steak and drinks again for our last lunch in town. From there, we returned to the SY Staatenlos for a nice, relaxing afternoon on the boat. The next morning, we would leave quite early to sail to Santiago Island.

Although our time in Fogo was brief at just two and a half days, we made the most of our short time there. It was an intense experience because those few days were so full of activities – the island of Fogo has a lot to offer. We were glad to be the first boat to anchor at the port of Fogo in over a year, and the whole crew enjoyed our time there.

Departing from Fogo and heading to Santiago Island

Be sure to join us next time to sail from Fogo to Santiago and see what the largest island of Cape Verde has to offer!