On our passage from Namibia to Brazil, we grief over a lost sail, recover on exciting St Helena, and celebrate having sailed around the world.

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Walvis Bay (NAM) – Natal (BRA)

“Floris, get up!” Ivar yells from the cockpit. Floris immediately wakes up. Did Ivar spot a whale? It’s so quiet, why else would Ivar interrupt Floris’s sleep? A few seconds later, Floris’s hopes for an exciting wildlife encounter are quashed. “The gennaker is in tatters,” Ivar laments. Floris’s heart drops while he stumbles outside. Under the moonlight he spots Ivar on the foredeck and the remnants of our gennaker in the water next to the boat. Meter by meter, we pull the wet sail on deck. How could this have happened?

Ironically, the scene around us is serene. Waves glide gently beneath us and a light breeze blows from behind. But the situation on deck is dramatic. We had painstakingly repaired the gennaker in Namibia and hoisted it less than four hours ago. We remember our satisfaction when the wind filled it. The huge red-white-blue sail was flying again, enabling us to maintain speed even in light winds! The repairs, it seemed, had been successful.

To lose the sail a second time, and after such a short time, is a huge downer. Two long tears from top to bottom on each side leave no doubt that the curtain has fallen on our beloved sail. It was always our secret weapon in light winds. Over the course of seven years it propelled us forward for thousands of miles. How do we sail our heavy steel boat to Brazil, a journey of over 3,000 miles, without it?

Sail Pains

Sailing back to Namibia is not an option. We know that there is no sailmaker where we could buy a new gennaker of have it repaired. Besides, the sail looks to be beyond repair. We have no choice but to continue sailing downwind with our other sails: the mainsail and genoa. However, they need more wind to function properly. We luff up to increase the apparent wind. As the wind is light, our sails don’t fill until we are almost on a close reach course. With dismay we watch our progress towards our destination decrease sharply. But at least we are sailing!

Fortunately, in the following days the wind gradually strengthens. We can adjust the sails and steer back to our original course. With the pole in the genoa on one side and the mainsail on the other, we reach more than six knots of speed. However, the waves also get higher. When the wind drops again and the pressure in the sails decreases, Luci ‘rolls’ over them. The sails flap back and forth. With every wave the mainsail hits the rigging. “Each time pain shoots through my entire body,” Ivar grumbles. He knows that the flapping is disastrous for the sails and we cannot afford to lose another one. We decide to lower the mainsail and start the engine. By moving in the same direction as the waves, the rolling becomes bearable.


As soon as the sea calms down and the wind increases slightly, we hoist the sails again. We steer a northerly course, as slightly more wind is predicted there. Indeed, the wind picks up and we can change back to a northwesterly course without the wind pressure in the sails becoming too low. We miss our gennaker terribly but are happy that we are still making progress.

When the wind strengthens to over 25 knots, it’s time to pole out our two jibs and sail dead-wind. We can balance the wind pressure in our sail, so our autopilot keeps course effortlessly. Still, Luci rolls heavily, facing up against a nasty cross-swell that makes it difficult for us to keep our balance. On a positive note, St Helena is straight ahead. We can’t wait to set foot on this remote island.

On the morning of our twelfth day at sea, clouds make way for the sun just as we approach St Helena. Steep cliffs appear under a gigantic rainbow, while playful dolphins guide us to the mooring field in front of the capital Jamestown. The harbour master welcomes us on VHF, after which we tie Luci to one of the moorings and finally secure ourselves to the ball. The excitement of being here suppresses our fatigue, so we immediately get ready to go to shore.

Holy Acquaintance

Due to the swell, there is no safe place to go ashore by dinghy or kayak. Instead, we take a small ferry to a quay where we can grab onto ropes to disembark. After we clear immigration and customs, it’s time to explore! Jamestown has an impressive town wall, so to get to the centre, we must pass through the ancient town gate. As soon as we emerge on the other side, it feels like we are in England. Classic buildings in Gregorian style line the town’s Main Street, Land Rovers dominate the roads, and the Union Jacks are flown from hotels and restaurants. Queen Elizabeth II graces the local bank notes. The daily menu of the yacht club? Fish & chips of course! Not of it is very surprising, as the island has been an overseas territory of the United Kingdom for hundreds of years. At the same time, it feels a bit odd, these expressions of Britishness in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Several islanders, knows as Saints, ask with interest where we come from. They take the time to tell us about their island. It is slightly smaller than the Dutch island of Texel and rises to almost 900 meters above sea level. Jamestown was built in one of the island’s countless valleys and is surrounded by steep hills. We experience exactly how steep those hills are when we climb Jacob’s Ladder. It’s a staircase of 699 steep steps that starts behind the church and only goes up, almost vertically. It takes us more than fifteen minutes to reach the top, where, exhausted, we take in the breathtaking view over Jamestown. “This was the warming-up for the coming days”, Floris smiles mischievously.

From Postbox to Postbox

A 4WD rental car helps us explore all corners of the island. Due to the countless hairpin bends and steep, winding roads, the car hardly gets beyond second gear. We stop often to explore the island’s treks, of which there are many. The most scenic ones are “Postbox Hikes”, which have a postbox at the end. It’s fantastic to stretch our sea legs again, in particular when it involves getting to the island’s most spectacular viewpoints.

Each hike has vicious climbs and descents that demand a lot from our fitness. Still, the sweat and muscle pain are a small price to pay in exchange for getting close to gannets, taking a swim in the refreshing Lot’s Wife Ponds, and finding the postboxes. Not to mention the breathtaking views of bright green valleys, rugged cliffs, and the endless blue ocean.

Not Napoleon, but Willem

St Helena became world famous when Napoleon was exiled here after his defeat in the battle of Waterloo in 1815. He spent the last six years of his life here, heavily guarded to prevent his escape from the island. In his former residence, we learn that l’empereur enjoyed the island’s natural beauty and liked to go on walks. At his request, he was buried in a green valley full of flowering trees and plants. A tomb still marks the spot where he lay for 19 years until his remains were moved to Paris.

In Jamestown’s history museum we find a remarkable newspaper article from 1994. What Napoleon never managed to pull off, Fleeing Dutchman Willem Merk did: escape. He was in prison for drug smuggling but managed to break out and get his hands on a small sailboat. With just a fishing rod, 25 liters of water and 10 cans of beans, he set sail. He barely survived the passage, but he made it to Brazil.

Second Half

After a week in St Helena, favorable winds are forecast. We untie our line from the mooring buoy and take off for part two of our trip to Brazil. With 1,800 miles to go, we are now sailing in Willem’s wake. Some days the wind is strong enough to sail a straight course to Natal. On other days we steer a beam-reach course to keep enough pressure in our sails. Thanks to the calm conditions and fair weather, we quickly pick up the pace again.

One feature of such a long passage is that you see all phases of the moon, including those when it is full or almost full. As soon as the night shift starts on those days, the moon becomes your faithful travel companion. When you step out of the dark cabin into the cockpit, it welcomes you. It brings light into the darkness, makes the night a little easier to bear. It follows its own path, but always returns. It creates a bond that makes you feel less alone on the long journey.

Magical Encounter

On a sunny day we suddenly hear “pshsh” and see a fountain of water right next to the boat. We jump up: a whale! The long, slender form, distinctive fin and typical length of about nine metres give away the type, a minke whale. The majestic animal swims with us for over an hour. Sometimes it plays with the bow wave, other times it looks at us from the side before it dives again. It reappears on the other side, swims in front of Luci, waits for us to catch up. Repeat. Just like the whale, we can’t get enough of the magical encounter. We were even able to capture the highlights in a short video.

The Earth Is Round

We are about a hundred miles off the Brazilian coast when something spectacular happens, but only on the screen of our plotter. We cross our own track, which we created when we crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Verde to Salvador da Bahia back in 2018. While we cheer in the cockpit, the sea acts as if nothing has happened. Still, we are excited and celebrate the milestone with a glass of apple juice and a piece of freshly baked butter cake. “The earth truly is round”, Ivar laughs. “And we have sailed around it!”

Mixed Feelings

Sadly the last day of the passage ends on a negative note. When the sun rises, Floris discovers a large tear in the mainsail. Like a marathon runner who collapses behind the finish line, it seems as if our mainsail has given everything to last one lap around the earth, only to give up immediately afterwards. Fortunately, the tear is just above the boom. After we put in a reef, we and can continue sailing. Still, we are very disappointed by this new setback. It’s probably a sign that the entire mainsail will need to be replaced soon. The sight of Natal’s skyline cheers us up and by the time we sail underneath a big new bridge and anchor at the Yacht Club, euphoria dominates. We made it to Brazil and sailed around the world! Ivar knows how best to celebrate: “A jug of caipirinha please!”

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