St. Thomas to Rio
The passage down along the northeastern coast of South America from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, against the current and trades was possibly my longest and most tiring windward passage. The direct distance from St. Thomas to the easternmost cape of South America is about 2,500 miles, but following our zigzag course tracks on the charts, I think we must’ve covered close to 4,000 miles over the bottom to get there. Headwinds of 15 to 30 knots, occasionally more, were almost constant, with one-and-a-half to two-knot currents also running against us much of the time. Now, 24 years later, our entire crew made the reunion: Lois Nystrom, Rona House, Pat Lawrence, and Bill Handsaker. During one offshore gale, Bill recalled someone muttering, “The only difference between the walls and the floor on this boat is that the walls have pictures hanging on them.”
Highlights included a stop at the former French penal colony at Devil’s Island, in French Guiana, and a 100-mile trip up the Amazon River during which we crossed the equator in fresh water.
Pat said, “We proceeded up the Amazon, first stopping at Macapa, then went on. At Macapa, we met a sailing couple from Switzerland who sold us their charts for an area called A Thousand Islands, and these allowed us to venture about 300 miles through a very remote part of Brazil between the north and south channels of the Amazon. It was a dreamlike experience, certainly not one experienced by many sailors! With our sails down and our awning up, we were an unusual sight for the natives that we saw along this off-the-beaten-path part of the river. Anchored at night, we listened to the sounds of the jungle birds while we ate our dinner bathed in candlelight. This much-needed side trip up the Amazon renewed our spirits and reenergized us for the rest of the voyage.”
Lois said, “I remember the smells of the jungle, and I was fascinated by the manatees we saw around us. And how dark it was in the jungle at night when we anchored in small tributaries with trees overhead and no lights anywhere, nor any sounds except those of the animals.”
We returned to the Atlantic via the South Channel and the city of Belem, where we resumed our struggle with contrary winds and current. Afterward, the crew gave me a plaque bearing an inscription: “The difference between an ordeal and adventure is attitude.”