09 March 2012 | Belem, Brazil
Diego woke me up at 5 am to alert me we were approaching the first sand bars of the mouth of the mighty Amazon River. I had split the night watches into 20 miles shifts instead of the normal time allotment so that I could be fully rested when we reached the mouth. Because Diego encountered counter current his shift ran especially long and he had to constantly splash water on his face while rocking out to AC DC just to stay awake as he steered the boat.
I took helm while Celesta manned the bow with a spotlight to watch for debris and fish traps. As the sun rose we began to see the water of the Amazon for the first time. I climbed the mast for a better look. It was an interesting feeling as I couldn’t quite determine if we were sailing on a river or the ocean. As far as I could see in every direction was brownish yellow river water but because no land could be seen (the mouth of the Amazon is 200 miles wide) and the wind stayed a constant 15 knots the feeling being at open sea remained. We were sailing on a an ocean of river.
The wind lightened and so we hoisted our spinnaker, Franky, to the delight (and curiosity) of many of the fisherman we passed. A speed boat approached from behind and I prepared mentally for a pirate attack but to my relief it was just a pilot boat wanting a closer look at us tooting his train horn as he passed with thumbs up and all smiles. Debris occasionally passed us and we once saw an entire tree float by with some of its branches sticking 6 feet out of the water. Being only a few miles from the equator, even with all the hatches open and breeze blowing we couldn’t seem to get the inside of the boat below sauna temperature. We all woke up at one point or another drenched in sweat. Luckily we got two rain showers our first morning to cool us down and fill our tanks.
About 40 miles up river the wind lightened further and the tide reversed to an eb. We found ourselves flowing backwards out the river from where we came . I set up our Danforth anchor, but because the flow looked minimal hadn’t tied it yet and was surprised how fast it caught and trying to hold the boats weight against the current we bent the stainless steel bow pulpit a full two inches before we had it properly secured. We then threw a line out the back for a swim and let the 3 knots of current cool us while pretending that piranhas don’t exist.
Then our first Amazonian rain storm hit. We had a few minutes warning as we watched the ink blue clouds roll in on us but still weren’t quite ready when the 30 plus knots of wind hit. Because it came from the near opposite direction of the current the wave action pitched the boat quite uncomfortably and when the rain hit visibility dropped to only a few feet (this was the highlight of our day). We pulled out some jib and for the first time ever I found myself sailing towards the anchor that secured us in high winds (the current was holding the bow away from the wind) while Diego effortlessly pulled up the rode. Under sail we were able to beat the current and make three knots over ground (we were sailing at 7 knots). We were all wet and with the wind we started to get cold. Hot chocolate was requested and if you would have told me an hour before that I would be drinking hot chocolate on the Amazon river I would have told you were crazy, but a few minutes later, there we were, the four of us shivering and sipping on our hot chocolate for warmth as we sailed against the Amazonian current only a few miles from the equator.
The rain passed and the wind died so we were forced to anchor once again. I went below for a nap while we waited on the tide to switch. I woke to the boat being jolted and the not so comforting sound of stretching line. Diego and I ran on deck to find ourselves caught in a massive net with floaties marking it that ran over 200 meters on either side of us. Two fishing boats soon approached us with frantic yelling in Portuguese. The strain of the net flowing with the current against our boat was about to break our rode and I grabbed a knife. I yelled at who I thought was the head fisherman (an Asian man) telling him that I was going to cut it. At first he wanted us to somehow get out of the net and then realizing this couldn’t be done he reluctantly agreed to me cutting the it. There was so much force on the net that the slightest touch with the knife caused a loud snap and the netting drew blood from my hand as it sprang away. Bubbles lifted a few inches out of the water after the strain was released and the fisherman hurried downriver to collect their pieces of net at they floated quickly away with the river current.
When the current subsided we weighed anchor and continued upstream now being pushed up the river by the increasing inflowing tide. Even in the light winds we were making over 8 knots. It was now dark and the glow of the port city of Belem increased as we neared. The waves flattened with each hour that passed. By 9 pm we could see many lights on our port shoreline and by 10 Belem’s skyline came into view. With thumping music heard from the water and some of the taller buildings lit in a blue hue it had very much a Miami look to it with our GPS being the only indicator that we were in fact on the Amazon River. By 11 were anchored in front of a live band but thoroughly exhausted we all passed out. If the rest of the Amazon was to be anything like the first day we were in for quite the ride.