28 March 2012 | Amazon River, Brazil
In the middle of a much needed rest between shifts I was awoken the loud cry of the Bubbles horn. I rushed on deck to see what all the commotion was about to Deigo and Steves announcement of our arrival to the Amazon River. After 4 days and nights of river travel from Belem we had finally reached the river proper. At three miles wide we could barely see the shore of the other side. It is now high water season and the river floods into the jungle and debris fills is swift outgoing current. That night Molly and I averaged only .7 knots under full steam while avoiding islands of river grass and logs until finally with the early morning light we were able to come back in close to shore and zip along at a lighting pace of 2.5 knots.
Having motored non stop for the past 120 hours we were nearly out of fuel and looked on the charts for a river port. We found the town of Prainha and coming into view after Intanduba island we set course towards it. Having to go around another river island to get to it, but not having any guage of depth in the muddy river water we ran aground once again now solidly stuck in the river mud. We lurched forward as we hit bottom but the boys, having just come off their shift, stayed soundly asleep. Molly and I went into action mode partaking in a teambuilding exercise that trumps anything a corporate retreat could offer. With myself acting as a human depth sounder, Molly operated the dingy (after a two minute crash course) taking me from one location to the next as we performed a survey on the area to determine the best course to get back to deep water. With the river current running strong there was no room for error for us to separate as I sunk to the mud bottom and resurfaced with my reading. With no other boats around (and so no help like previously) we resorted to digging (holding my breath while scooping handfuls of mud out from underneath the keel) and pirate swings (swinging out using a halyard to cause the boat to heel and thus decrease draught), both of which failed. Then, using the danforth anchor off our stern to a wench, coupled with full steam in retreat we were able to get Bubbles back to deep water which was followed by high fives and some much needed cleaning of the river mud that now caked the boat.
We made it to the town (rafting up to river boats full of hammocks) to find a Petro Amazon fuel station (the towns hangout spot) that had been closed for years, but fortunately there was a nearby hut that sold fuel from barrels. The owner showed us his swollen foot pointing to the water where a river ray had jabbed him just last week. Everything seemed to be moving at a slow to paused pace in the jungle river town that Molly described as ‘agressively chill’. We wheelbarrowed our fuel to the boat; enjoyed a local dish of chicken, rice and beans; and carried on with much of the town watching.
Needing to the celebrate Molly’s birthday we scrambled a strawberry cake (using strawberry nesquick) on the stove, as we have no functioning oven. We enjoyed our pink cake as pink river dolphins swam around the boat. Local legend says that during the night the river dolphins come ashore as handsome men and impregnate the women, but how these ugly cousins of the much prettier ocean dolphins become handsome is beyond us.
The following night we spotted a brightly lit cruise ship coming up the river. Looking quite out of place I called them up on the VHF and almost asked if they had taken a wrong turn somewhere. The Norwegian captain was friendly and we exchanged pirate strategies. A Fred Olsen cruise ship, they had 1800 on board and were coming from England.
The next day we took another longcut shortcut (longer in distance but shorter in time due to less current) that snaked off of the main river only to rejoin 15 miles later. In the side channel we saw a caiman (Amazonian crocodile), a big water snake, and many water buffalo. When we rejoined the main river we were in sight of the river port of Santarem and the final goal of our upriver travel, or so we thought.