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Mission Ocean - Brava - A fisherman's welcome

by Mission Océan 4 Feb 06:27 UTC
Contigo an anchor in the bay of Brava © Mission Océan

"My name's Jose," said the smiling wiry fisherman in Portuguese, gripping our hands as we scrambled up the pebble beach. "Welcome to Brava."

Our adventure on the south-westernmost island of the Cape Verde archipelago had begun a few days before, as we compared cruising plans with the French couple anchored near us in Tarrafal de Santiago. They had heard of a nice, sheltered anchorage with a pretty fishing village nearby, and invited us to join them there. It so happened that we beat them to the bay of Lomba-Tonton by some 24 hours.

We knew that we were on to something good even before we dropped anchor, approaching a little beach dotted with rainbow-coloured fishing boats in the yellow light of dawn. Our sail down overnight had been steady, and the beautiful sunrise revealed steep orange volcanic cliffs, hinting at a town somewhere far above our heads.

It wasn't long before a few of the little wooden boats put to sea, and approached us tentatively, unsure if we were friend or foe. We waved to the nearest (bravest?), a green and white boat that turned out rather auspiciously to be called Laura, and in whose belly we had glimpsed some large, fresh red fish. The beaming fishermen seemed to have no idea how much to charge us for them (we later learned that this side of the business belongs solely to the wives), and were happy to accept our handfuls of coins in exchange for two shiny fish.

The next boat that approached Contigo's steps was rowed over by Jose and Steve, both in their thirties and keen to make friends. Plans were laid for a barbecue on the beach at midday, and I set about making salads, unsure whether we were going to be expected to pay for lunch, and hesitant to arrive empty-handed.

But it soon became clear that we were to be guests of honour at a beach fiesta that would take up the rest of our afternoon, almost thwarting our plans to trek up the cliffs and discover the town. In exchange for buttered potatoes and green salad, we were treated to piles of barbecued fish, loving marinated in spices and cooked with great care over a wood fire behind the cheerful blue building that served as HQ to the twenty fisherman.

Except for those first two fish, we exchanged no money with the fishermen for the remainder of our week-long stay in Brava. An old spear gun in need of repair was swapped off Contigo's stern for a bucket of fresh crayfish that we barbecued to welcome our friends into the anchorage. Homemade coleslaw disappeared into hungry bellies in exchange for a huge pot of papaya jam that had bubbled for hours over a wood fire on the beach. We leant tools to Jose, who was building himself a new house in the village, and in return we were invited to lunch with his mother.

After a few days, we became part of the village scenery. We knew everyone's names, and they knew ours. The Contigo boys went spear-fishing with enthusiastic, athletic Antonio, know to everyone as "the fish" due to his free-diving skills and enormous fin-like feet; we shared dinner with his family in their two-room house. Henrique free-dived and helped groups of fishermen to close their nets on huge shoals of fish. Titi the bus driver took special detours to drop us at the start of spectacular hikes, and we helped him bump-start the bus down a hill when he broke down. We went into the village school and gave a workshop on plastic pollution, after which the kids would scamper after us in the street, chattering and smiling.

One day, we were invited to eat at two different houses. There seemed to be some kind of rivalry going on between the two fishermen as to who could spend more time entertaining us. Not wanting to enter into the village politics, we simply decided to go to both! After a morning working on board, and the long hot trek up to the village, our appetites were easily big enough for fish, potatoes and rice at the first house, and spicy chicken and more rice at the second.

Henrique is a fluent Portuguese speaker, which certainly helped us to integrate, and everyone was keen to exhaust their French, Spanish, English and Italian vocabularies with us whilst we had great fun trying to pronounce some of the local creole words. Jose brought his friend Joe down him farm in the hills to meet us, and much to our surprise Joe began to chatter away in perfect English with a strong Boston accent. He had grown up in New Bedford, but returned to his native village of Lomba in his late twenties.

Besides a beautiful calm anchorage and a welcoming population, Lomba also boats a small cable car, which runs from the beach to the village some 200m up the cliff. By no means large enough to transport a man, the cable car is designed to transport fish up, and provisions back down. We made great use of it to bring our food and water on board prior to our departure.

We also put the lift to good use on our penultimate day on Brava, when we used it to transport nine large rubbish bags full of plastic waste from the beach. The Cape Verdes in general have a plastic pollution issue, and we had already organized beach cleans in Mindelo and Tarrafal de Santiago, where we were joined by locals, sailors and tourists alike. But the beach – and village – of Lomba were by far the most affected that we had seen in the archipelago. Initially, we had considered turning a blind eye to the pollution, not wanting to cause offence by criticising the local way of life and thus tarnish our otherwise wonderful stay. But as we built up friendships, it became much easier for Henrique to explain the issue, and the consequences that the plastic pollution would ultimately have on the local fish populations upon which the village largely relied. And so after a morning of free-diving and snorkelling with the fishermen, we donned gloves and began to clean the beach. We were joined by Jose, Antonio, and their families and friends. Many other villagers came to the beach to watch, and to cook up fish and rice which they shared with us. I was almost moved to tears to hear one small boy repeating the lesson that we had given in the school, to a group of his friends on the beach who were curious as to why we were cleaning.

Before we set off from France, we had worked hard to obtain donations of equipment from superyachts along the French Riviera. We both used to work in this luxury industry, and were all too aware of the wasteful attitude that some yachts have towards water toys, galley equipment and a whole host of other items. Anything that is slightly scratched or faded, and therefore is no longer "superyacht standard", often ends up in a skip. And so at the end of the yachting seasons, we tried to save as much of this equipment as we could, and our starboard cabin is packed to the gills with bags of gifts to distribute to those in need throughout our journey.

At the end of our stay in Brava, we were thrilled to be able to distribute some of these donations to the fishing community that had opened their doors to us. Old fins and wetsuits went to the free-divers, deck boots to the fishermen, clothes and cooking utensils to the families, and masks and snorkels to the kids. The gifts were met with a mix of surprise and delight, with Jose rather succinctly summarizing what we already felt about our time in Lomba:

"These presents aren't necessary, your friendship is enough for us."

From the top of the hill in Lomba, we had a sweeping, uninterrupted view of the Atlantic, and we could see the trade winds rippling away from the island like an immense pathway. Our next stop, Martinique, was calling and after lengthy goodbyes and promises to return, we set a course to the west and headed to sea. Caribbean, here we come!

Mission Ocean is proud to be supported by: Boero, Doyle Sails Palma, Rotary District 1730, Navigair, Octomarine, Battery World Service, Victron Energy, Monaco Marine, Aquatabs, Spade Anchors, Plastimo, Furuno France, Pejout Marine Services, Lyvio, Storm Bird, Aethic, Corsica Yacht Services, Astrolabe Expeditions, Asociacion Ondine, AGL Marine, and Sail-WorldCruising.com

Mission Ocean is Laura Beard and Henrique Agostinho. Their three year plus mission is to share their love and respect for the ocean with others, through education and scientific research. Neither is a stranger to the water, so they have combined all their skills and passions in this bold, courageous and inspiring project. Sail-Worldcruising.com is delighted to be with them for the journey of their lifetime. You can also find out more on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/missionocean06

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