21 Mar Making our First (Unscheduled) Landfall in Brazil
Landfall in Brazil
We were not planning on coming to Brazil. Our goal was to get south and make landfall in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, but the man upstairs had other plans for us.
We had a problem with data spikes in our wind data, which of course, feeds our autopilot and steering. It is important that we sail by wind angle offshore, as it not only rides the wind shifts, it keeps us in proper line with the waves for the most part. This problem caused a big crash gybe while offshore.
Luckily the boat and people were OK. Nothing more than a few scratches, but a crash gybe in 30 knots while surfing in double digits is not a laughing matter. It has the potential to bring the mast down, roll us, or be a trip or life-ending situation offshore. It was very important that this problem was fixed at the first available opportunity.
We did as many diagnoses as we could while at sea and determined the problem was coming from the wind data at the masthead (B&G 213 MHU). This wasn’t something we could fix while at sea. We got on the sat phone and contacted our shoreside support (my brother Kyle) to find the nearest B&G dealer in South America. There was one in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and one in Ilhabela, Brasil.
Upon contacting them both it was determined that the best course of action was to go to Ilhabela, a place we had never heard of or researched. Boats were having problems entering Argentina now, as they had closed their ports again while we were at sea due to the resurgence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. Brazil did not have a problem taking in boaters in need, which was excellent to hear.
We turned more westward and aimed for the coast, just north of Rio. We saw our first land in weeks near Cabo Frio after sailing through massive offshore oilfields and lots of shipping traffic. This was all cool to see but was challenging to navigate.
We then sailed by Rio de Janeiro and Ilha Grande, as our goal was still to get our parts and keep moving south. What we found was a stunningly beautiful place. Words almost can not describe the first views we had of the rainforest meeting the sea. Amazing!
We anchored to rest a few times as we navigated along the coast. We saw quite a few fishing nets and did not want to tangle with them at night in a place where we hadn’t planned on being, had no local knowledge, and never studied the charts.
At first, we were very intimidated and on high alert, as we had heard some scary stuff about Brazil in the press and from other travelers. I want to take this opportunity to say that we now know cruising and sailing in southern Brazil is not to be feared, but embraced. It is a wonderful place filled with kind people and a huge and vibrant sailing community. More on that later!
Checking in During Covid-19 Border Closures
Yes, we have our passports stamped, boat cleared, and are 100% checked into Brasil. Brazil was closed to Yachts though at the time, so an exception had to be made. Luckily there is a very high regard for mariners here (Ilhabela is essentially the Annapolis of Brazil) and we were accepted with open arms.
YCI required that we had Brasil paperwork to stay here, but allowed us a mooring and to get a cab to the ferry, etc. YCI was incredibly helpful and has a wonderful manager named Armando, who, lucky for us, has spent some time in England and speaks very good English.
We communicated via Whatsapp (and also used Google translate to assist at times) with them ahead of time to determine if it would be OK. We explained that we had a problem with our autopilot and the required part was available at North Sails Brasil, in Ilhabela.
We were instructed to report to the Port Captain/Navy first by the YC. We did so. We were asked the reason and the amount of time required to fix it, which was accepted.
Then we were told to follow the standard check-in procedures listed on Noonsite.
- Policia Federal*
*We went to the main office in Sao Sebastiao but were told we needed to go to another place, as they do not handle Yachts at the city office. There is a special office (not listed on Google) inside the commercial port, which requires passports for ID and an electronic card for each person to be created to enter. It is quite some distance back, near the water. Just a small unmarked office in a white building.
We are not sure we would have been able to enter this area alone, as we were escorted by a Receita Federal employee (who was also a sailor).
The Policia Federal officers did question our route and reason for entry. We showed our Predictwind Tracker.
He asked if the autopilot was an emergency. I responded honestly and said, “In the Caribbean, it would not be an emergency, but we intend to round Cape Horn, and it is vitally important for safety with 2 people in heavy conditions as we sail south.” He agreed, then laughingly said we were crazy. He was a sailor also.
We were stamped in and given 90 days. Upon discussion, we were encouraged to see more of Brazil while we were here.
- Receita Federal
They weren’t quite sure what to do with us and wanted us to talk to an English-speaking inspector. For that, we had to come back the next day. We were instructed to send them an email with our reason in writing. We did. They replied with an appointment time.
The next day we were asked the standard customs questions but informed we should have gone to an online link and filled out the form and printed it.
The inspector did this for us. She said the screen said she was supposed to now go to the boat. She said photos would suffice, which I showed her on my phone. Dog paperwork was reviewed and cleared also at this time 🙂 Receita Federal also granted the boat 90 days to match the passport stamps.
- Port Captain
First a discussion with Navy guards for the reason. Then escorted to the Captain’s office. A form must be filled out stating the movements. We listed a few ports we knew but explained that as this was an unplanned stop I did not review the charts beforehand. I said that I would appreciate any ability to stop on the way south for fuel and to see the country. This was granted.
Along with boat paperwork, he also asked me for my Captain’s License. I explained to him I did not have one as a US-flagged non-commercial sailboat of this size does not require a license in the USA and the licensing requirements stay with the flag. He said he still needed to see a license, so I presented my driver’s license which was accepted and photocopied.
He stamped me in. Then he was very explicit in the importance that I return to clear out before sailing out of Sao Sebastiao/Ilhabela. Which I agreed to.
I returned to the YC and the Nautical Secretary for the Yacht Club also copied all of the papers. Done!
The Paperwork Process
There is really nothing to worry about regarding paperwork in Brazil. It is very straightforward and by the book. The first time will surely take longer, especially for a non-Portuguese speaker that does not know the lay of the land. Could it be easier? Sure, but in reality, it would likely take the same amount of time and paperwork for a foreign-flagged cruiser to enter the USA.
The whole process took over a day and a half. 4 ferry rides, 4 taxi rides, and 2 ubers. The cost of transportation was the only cost (35 brl for a taxi from YC to Ferry, uber is not needed since the trip to PF downtown was not required).
One more trip will be required to check out.
It all could be done possibly in a morning if you know where all the offices are and have the forms pre-printed and filled out. I would also suggest 3 photocopies of all documents to hand to them to expedite.
Also, one could anchor off the southern beaches of Sao Sebastio to save a bit on the taxi and ferry.
All officials were extraordinarily professional, helpful, and friendly. Especially considering my poor Portuguese and use of Google Translate. I also think it was helpful that most everyone knew someone who was a sailor or boater here.
We have now been here for a bit, we are learning some Portuguese and will update you further about what we learn about this magnificent, diverse, and broad country. We have completed all of our required repairs and are ready to go, but it is getting late in the season, so we are weighing our options while enjoying time with our new friends here.