Final Cape Verdean Destination: Santiago Island

Have you ever wondered how a seasoned sailor could be killed by a fish? It could happen in more ways than one. And it nearly happened to me. 😵

The location was Cape Verde, specifically Santiago Island…

Sailing to Santiago

The final destination on the SY Staatenlos’ Atlantic island hopping voyage around Cape Verde would be Santiago Island. After two and a half intense days of exploring the towering volcanic island of Fogo, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep before setting sail early the next morning for Santiago.

Santiago is the largest island of Cape Verde, and it was our last stop before we would make our ambitious trans-Atlantic crossing to Brazil.

🎼 Cue the Jaws theme song 🎶

The ride from Fogo to Santiago was about 60 nautical miles. We carefully navigated out of the treacherous shipwrecked bay of Fogo at 4 a.m. while it was still dark outside to get an early start. The sea was quite rough, but luckily it was not as difficult as the ride from Brava to Fogo.

Nevertheless, the wind and waves were slamming into the front of the boat, making it impossible to sail without using the motor. We battled the sea leaving Fogo, but the wind and the waves decreased as we neared Santiago Island.

As we sailed, we encountered a pod of probably twenty fin whales, the second-largest species on earth after the blue whale. They are heavily hunted in Norway, the Faroe Islands, and a handful of other countries, which has put them on the endangered species list.

Were these the fish that would almost lead to my untimely death, my “final destination,” you may ask? Perhaps it would serve as revenge for the time I ate whale steak in Greenland.

There were certainly enough of them to take me down!

I won’t leave you waiting in suspense for long – the fin whales came in peace. They floated and swam in the water all around us, showing off their long, slender, grey bodies and prominent dorsal fins, reminding me of the many dolphins we had crossed paths with on our journey until now.

It was amazing to see so many of them, so we turned the boat around a few times just to get a closer look. Finally, we sailed onward to anchor at one of the ports of Santiago Island.

These peaceful creatures were not culprits in my near-death experience. They were beautiful to see 🤩

Day One in Cidade Velha

Praia, the capital of Santiago Island, is situated in the south, and Cidade Velha, where we anchored first, is nearby to the west.

Cidade Velha was the old port of the island, the first established town in Cape Verde, and the original capital of Cape Verde. We found a nice anchorage in a sheltered bay, where we chilled for a couple of days. The area around the boat was great for snorkeling, so I liked to start every day with a snorkel before going to check out the town, explore the island, or do some work.

New anchorage in the oldest town south of the Sahara founded by Europeans in the year 1460

On our first full day in Santiago, I had a handful of consulting calls to do. Later in the afternoon, I went to see the charming village of Cidade Velha. There were some lovely old colonial buildings, nice restaurants, a beautiful stretch of beach, and an old fortress towering above the town.

Lovely Cidade Velha

The landscape of Cidade Velha features a deep valley surrounded by high cliffs. It used to be one of the biggest slave markets in the world because of its natural topography. The valley was practically inescapable for the people who were enslaved, and it was overlooked by the fortress above.

View of the fortress on the hill from our anchorage

I went to explore the fortress and was accompanied by two little boys who showed me the way before asking for money. I gave them some cash, then went to check out the big fortress.

There, I saw the ruins of a big church that remained from the island’s golden days. There is not much still standing today, but I enjoyed walking around and exploring the ruins. Afterward, I had a nice dinner at a local restaurant before taking the dinghy back to the boat.

Nightfall on Santiago Island

The Three Muskateers + Admilson

Upon arrival, my skipper Josh quickly befriended some local children, as he had in Sal. He allowed them to supervise the boat when we weren’t there, and he took them on a few boat rides at high speeds, which the children quite enjoyed.

Josh’s new “friends” knew how to make a good deal – they played on the dinghy and took care of it while we were on land in exchange for a nice tip.

At that point, it was just me, Josh, and Corinne (who had been with us since Boa Vista). However, we were waiting in Santiago for five more people to join us to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil.

Corinne was very handy to have aboard 💪

I met a local Cape Verdean guide named Admilson who picked me up from the fortress in Cidade Velha and drove me to the capital of Praia. It was cool to visit the capital at night, and we went out to have dinner together.

Night lights in Praia

I had a hearty slow-cooked stew called cachupa, which is the national dish of Cape Verde. It had pork, beans, and all sorts of locally grown vegetables, and it was delicious.

Cachupa – the tasty and very filling national dish of Cape Verde

Admilson told me about his sister and three brothers, named (consecutively) Admilsa, Amilson, Amison, and Adismon (I hope I spelled that right 😅). The reason for their similar names, he explained, is that children at school must sit in alphabetical order, with the students whose names start with “A” at the front of the classroom.

Admilson’s parents believed that students who sat at the front of the class must be extremely attentive and obedient to their teachers. Therefore, they gave all of their children names beginning with the letter “A” to put them at the front of the classroom and hopefully make them better students.

I can imagine why children might be distracted from school in such a beautiful setting

Admilson and I also spoke about his Portuguese wife, and their dream of one day sailing together, so a few days later we invited them to sail with us to Praia. But before that, we would enjoy a few nice day trips on land. Over dinner, Admilson and I discussed what to do with my time in Santiago.

The Hike

The mountains of Santiago are more similar in size to São Nicolau than they are to the tall mountains of Santo Antão. We could see the mountains clearly when we approached the island by sea, so we were looking forward to hiking one of them on our first day in Santiago.

The mountains were pretty impressive

Admilson recommended that we hike up the mountain, but we told him that we preferred to drive up the mountain and hike back down, which was still a long walk. We didn’t go to the very top of the mountain because it was a windy day, and the peak can be quite dangerous with heavy wind.

Corinne and I on the hike

We left the car at the radio tower station, which is the main source of internet for the island, and from there we began the hike. There were stunning views allowing us to see all around the island, from the coast of Praia all the way to the interior.

What a view! Although this photo looks like it may have led to my “final destination,” remember that story involves a fish 😂😭

We stopped at a typical little Cape Verdean hut which had some chickens and pigs, then we continued the hike, taking lots of photos as we walked down.

The simple life

The views of the cliffs were impressive, and we saw several kingfishers, which are fairly rare, brightly colored birds.

This kingfisher seemed to pose for the camera

We also saw one of the last strawberry plantations still left on the island. We met a local family there and took some nice photos with the wife and kids. The strawberries were delicious and I filled myself up with them.


A view of the strawberry plantation from above

We then continued the hike down to the valley below, where we found a grogue factory. Grogue is an alcoholic drink of Cape Verde made from sugarcane. We got to drink some sugar cane juice, try the grogue and see how it is produced and fermented. I felt very drunk because it was so strong, and from there we drove back to Cidade Velha.

I returned to the boat with a belly full of strawberries and grogue 😋

The Next Day

After a refreshing night of sleep, we awoke to a new day and went on a bigger island tour to check out the other towns. We started at the oldest and largest tree on the island, where I tried out the drone and took some nice pictures of the surrounding valley and mountains.

A view from above Cape Verde’s biggest tree

From there, we headed up to the northwest town of Tarrafal, which is probably the most beautiful bay I saw to anchor in all of Cape Verde. Unfortunately, we didn’t go there by boat because it can be quite rough to anchor there, but we had some time to enjoy the beautiful beach crowned by the green forest, hills, and mountains.

The spectacular bay where I wish we could have anchored

A Near-Death Experience

We enjoyed the beach for a while and took a nice swim before going to lunch at a very nice restaurant, which very nearly killed me.

Does the murderous fish lurk in this bay?

You might not expect this from an experienced sailor who spends long stretches of time at sea, but I was almost poisoned that day due to my rather serious seafood allergy.

I’ll make this story easier to “swallow” with more beautiful photos from the beach

I had ordered spaghetti bolognese for lunch, and Admilson had ordered spaghetti tuna bolognese. The restaurant made both of the orders correctly, but when serving the food, they mixed up the tuna bolognese with the regular bolognese, giving Admilson’s dish to me and my dish to him. I didn’t smell the tuna, and the two dishes looked practically identical, so I just started to eat the dish that was put in front of me.

So a tuna fish almost took my life. For me, it’s healthier to see fish in the ocean, not on my plate.

I could feel that something was wrong as soon as I tasted the tuna on my tongue, but I instinctively swallowed it anyway, and that’s where the stress began. Luckily, I had only taken a very small bite and quickly realized the mistake that had been made.

I went to the bathroom and got it out right away. I still felt some discomfort in my stomach for the next few hours, but because I only ate a tiny bit, I was saved from a potentially lethal experience. When I returned to the table, my guide and I switched plates and I enjoyed eating my meat bolognese instead, as I had ordered. This incident reminded me to always be cautious of what I eat, especially on an island where the locals love to eat fresh fish.

I would bet most of the people on these boats had fish for lunch too

Join us next time to explore more of Praia and prepare to cross the ocean on the trans-Atlantic journey of a lifetime aboard the SY Staatlos.

More of Santiago to come when the adventure continues!