18 March 2012 | Para River, Brazil
With an outward flow 10 times that of the Mississippi River and containing one fifth of the earth’s fresh water, the Amazon river is HUGE. By far the world’s largest river, its basin drains an area as large as Australia with the world’s fifth and sixth largest rivers (Negro and Madeira) accounting for two of many tributaries. Currently in the Para river (an outflow of the Amazon) where the Tocantins River (an epic river in its own right being over 1000 miles long) joins just before the mouth feels more like being on a huge muddy lake than a river. Land can barely be seen on the horizon and without GPS we wouldn’t have been able to find our path to the main channel of the Amazon River. Looking at the upcoming maze of rivers on the charts looks a spider web of water channels and we almost expect to get lost.
By night the river had narrowed and the barge traffic increased. As I was explaining to Molly how to tell which direction a boat is heading based on whether you see a green (starboard) or red (port) light she asked what it means when you see both red and green while pointing directly behind us. “That means a boat is coming right at us,” I said as I scrambled to the helm with the barge bearing down on us from behind. We have all our navigation lights off as a pirate precautionary, but at times I feel I would rather take on the pirates than navigate river traffic in the dark. In one hour I counted 12 large barges or ferries that passed us.
Later that night we heard a thud followed by a vibration that shook the entire boat. Killing the engine I had to jump in the dark river water to find a piece of jungle that had wrapped itself around the prop. Once removed, problem solved.
Even though over 100 miles up river from the sea, the tidal flows still affect river current and so we are forced to stop and anchor when the outward flow is increased by the ebbing tide preventing us from making any forward progress, even under full steam. On one such stop we dingied up a small channel through a river island for a look around only to get knee deep in mud. We stopped and talked to a family whose house was on stilts. They showed us their shrimp traps and I traded my west marine plastic paddle for a nice hand carved wooden one from the patriarch, Louis, who seemed more thrilled about the trade than me. Back aboard the boat some fisherman had tried to take our gas, but when discovering Diego sill there simply asked for what they were intending to steal. They asked if he was alone, but he wasn’t, the Ma Se Pouse III was standing by, ready for action if need be.
That night the Para River ended and split into no fewer than 14 smaller rivers (check it out 1’50 S 50’15 W). Luckily we have GPS or we could have really gotton lost in a hurry. We picked what I thought the right one to lead us to the small river town of Breves. Up the narrow river at 3 am Diego woke me to find an anchoring spot as the tide was gaining strength against us. We had been going for over 30 hours straight and when he went to the bow to ready the hook I fell asleep. I woke to the smack of a branch as I had run the boat into the jungle! Confused as to where I was in the darkness and snapping branches, Diego ran to the helm to turn back to open water but not before we were able to collect some jungle foliage on deck and wrap the prop again with jungle weed. Strangely enough we had plenty of water beneath the keel which had my mind ticking for future exploration.