Exploring the northern Cape Verde islands

Having said farewell to Crispin and Charles, Simon and I headed off from Palmeira, Sal on Monday 19th November to explore some of the northern (windward) Cape Verde islands.

There was considerable swell as we motored in light winds away from Sal heading south south-west towards Sao Nicolau.  The interval between the waves was quite long – perhaps 150m – but the waves themselves were 4-5 metres from peak to trough. Caused by heavy weather to the north and west (we were amazed to see the BBC footage from Tenerife of hotel balconies being wiped away by the waves) it was mesmeric to motor though, and not at all unpleasant.

It was a 45 nautical mile passage and we threw out the fishing line as is our habit – more out of hope than expectation.  We were richly rewarded, however, hooking two excellent and quite large dorado.  No sooner had Simon landed the first and filleted it, I had the second on the line.


Simon’s dorado.  They are beautiful fish, but lose their beautiful blue, rainbow-like sheen the moment they come out of the water


I’m sure mine was bigger…


Dorado are easy to filet, and we when cut up we ended up with 24 large steaks in the freezer, which my Atlantic crew will enjoy.  The meat is absolutely delicious

By the time we arrived at Sao Nicolau it was dark, and we anchored under some cliffs opposite a little village called Caracas. After a quiet night we took the dinghy over to the village for an explore.  It’s quite remote, and accessible only by dirt track, so coming in by sea was the best way.  We met a few of the villagers who were plying their fishing boats, using nets, spears and sticks with hooks to trap, shoot and winkle out the plentiful sea life around.  They were indifferently friendly, and we felt at ease despite the evident disparity of wealth and lifestyles.  We made sure we made a purchase at the small shop.



Dinghy landing at Caracas



Not a friendly dog

After strolling around the village for an hour or so, we went back to the yacht and headed further round the island to a big wide bay and port called Tarrafal, where we based ourselves for a couple of days to explore the island. Having anchored, we explored the town (the second biggest on Sao Nicolau) and arranged for a guided tour the next day.  Again, we found the people friendly and nonthreatening, and enjoyed meeting the boys who surround any arriving dinghy on the beach, eager to be paid a coin or two for the dubious service of watching over your dinghy.  Those that could say ‘God save the Queen’ clearly were rewarded the most!


Tarrafal harbour, with Spellbinder at anchor in the background


Bizarrely, we came across a wrecked Moody undergoing Cape Verdean renovation!

The next day began, as so many others, with a cup of tea in the cockpit watching the sun come up about 7am.  It’s not too hot during the day, but adapting an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ routine makes the most of the daylight and the cooler hours.


Another dawn cup of tea, well before colours…

We met our guide Aqualino at the café by the fish market, and spent a day with him exploring the island.  It was magnificent.  We first climbed the highest peak (Monte Gordo) – albeit with a major head start by 4×4 – and looked down at the anchorage far below, admiring the greenness of the ‘wet’ side of the island and the coolness brought about by the altitude.

IMG_3733 View from the summit of Monte Gordo (1312m) with Tarrafal far below.


We spent the rest of the day touring the island, including the capital Ribeira Brava, which is nestled in the hills – established there both because of the water source and also to give some distance and warning from invading pirates in decades past. We saw wonderful scenery, fine seascapes and learned much from our witty guide who loved to flirt with all the women he came across – in true guide fashion, he seemed to know everyone, and claimed to be the the only Aqualino in Sao Nicolau.  We ate in a local restaurant next door to the chief of police (a character straight out of Starsky and Hutch), visited our guide’s house (which he is trying to turn into a guest house by the sea), and met his Brazilian neighbour.  At the end of the day, over dinner, we reflected that the modest sum we had paid him had been well spent, as we had captured the taste of the island, and begun to scratch under its surface.




Portuguese canon



Our guide showing us his house by the beach…


…and his extensive garden, including pineapples and yams grown in unorthodox pots

The next day we left Sao Nicolau early, heading over to a little island called Ilha de Luzia.  It is a nature reserve (turtles come ashore in late summer and lay their eggs) – a barren uninhabited island with hills and a beautiful long white beach.



Ilha de Luzia

We snorkeled off a rock and went ashore to fly the drone and to enjoy the wildness of it all. By mid afternoon the wind had got up, and we enjoyed a breezy sail into Mindelo, one of the great ports of the eastern Atlantic. It is the only marina in Cape Verde and we were allocated a good berth from which to prepare for the Atlantic crossing.  The place is busy, with dozens of European yachts and there crews and a couple of rallies about to head west, including the second ARC + which ends up in the Grenadines.  I’m glad I’m an independent though, and have appreciated the flexibility it has given me.

We loved what we saw of Cape Verde, and it has made me glad that I took the time to explore some of it.  It has made me want to come back and spent more time here – next time we’ll head to the southern (leeward) chain and see what they are like.  Cape Verde is ruggedly beautiful, and the people friendly and on the up. The walking is amazing. I sensed positive vibes from it, and while you are clearly in Africa not Europe – the poverty is evident – the place is modernising and heading the right way, with little sign of undue western interference of vulgar development.

As I write this Simon has headed home and my Atlantic crew – Alan and Neil – are about to arrive at Mindelo airport.  We have a couple of of days to prepare Spellbinder.  The next blog, I hope, will tell the story of the crossing.


8 thoughts on “Exploring the northern Cape Verde islands

  1. Clare Wilson

    Sounds like an adventure already! but my biggest question, after reading that you have caught 3 dorado now since our privileged time as your crew….which lure is the most successful one???

    Bon voyage Clare


    Liked by 1 person

  2. crispin

    Great update. Glad you had an interesting few days exploring some of the islands.
    Congrats on the double-catch! With all that yoghurt, fresh bread and Dorado, your Atlantic crew will be well-fed.
    Have a fantastic crossing with the wind on your backs. We look forward to hearing all about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. anthonywilkinson66gmailcom

    Hi Nick, nice catches! Sounds a fascinating place and you are now well set for the crossing. Don’t forget to buy more coffee. All best and god speed
    The chai wallah

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Chris N

    Bro – have a great trip, although perhaps I am a little late with this if you are already out in the wild blue yonder. Tight lines (NZ fishing term but perhaps international too?) and whatever the equivalent is for your sails! See you in Dec, from all @ GF


  5. Charles

    Amazing Dorado! They are huge. Did you gaff them into the boat?
    I hope that you are having an excellent Atlantic voyage. I look forward to reading about it on here soon.


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