Friday September 28th, 2001
Just inside the mouth of the Amazon River on the south bank.
A city that took us by surprise - with an estimated 2 million inhabitants and high-rise buildings piercing the sprawl of many shanties.
After a near perfect run from Rio de Janeiro – with trade wind breezes, blue skies and an even bluer sea, it was quite a change to turn left and head into the muddy brown waters of the river - but also good to be “here” - our Amazon expedition is finally underway.
The wet weather gear and survival suits of Antarctica have been cleaned and stowed away - until the Northwest Passage through the ice of the Arctic next year.
We now have wet weather “ponchos” to take their place - light and airy and the most suitable for the daily tropical downpours.
Our Antarctic clothing is but a distant memory - now relegated to lockers under the bunks - hopefully until next year.
To dress for watch is much simpler - a tee shirt and shorts - that’s all.
But we are now taking our anti-malarial tablets each day, and the insect repellent will soon be a “must”.
The sun burns very quickly, so hats and the new lightweight Line 7 clothing to keep us covered up during the hottest time of the day are also very welcome.
Keeping the food fresh posses different problems - but the 2 large refrigerators installed in place of the diver’s shower down aft help with the fruit and vegetables - and the freezers in the forepeak are full to the brim with meat and other frozen items.
And it isn’t as though we will be away from civilisation for months at a time as in Antarctica - and the need there to carry food for a year in case of being frozen-in. Here we will be passing villages very regularly as we head the long way westwards against the current.
Some of our travel will be day and night - where the river is wide enough. Some will be restricted to daytime only - with a good deck patrol being vital when at anchor for the night in some remote areas.
Initially we will be in the main river with a great deal of traffic - but after Manaus this will all change, with some excursions planned into tributaries that have rarely been visited.
Our guide is Miguel Rocha da Silva - who was the guide for Jacques Cousteau when Calypso spent 18 months here.
Miguel is a wealth of information.
Our pilot as far as Manaus, 1000 miles up-river, is Joseph.
Our cook is Paolo - already in the galley preparing his first lunch for the crew. Paolo has a restaurant in Manaus and will be good to be with in the market place when we are buying our supplies over the next few days.
We are presently anchored just off the yacht club to the south of the town - in very shallow waters with all types of extraordinary and often brightly painted river craft passing in a continuous stream - day and night.
The full deck awnings that were built in Buenos Aires over the winter months have this morning been unfolded and put into place - hopefully to remain there for the rest of our time on the river.
And what a river.
A few facts and figures - that we will no doubt repeat from time to time:
They give meaning to the reasons that we are here.
1. The Amazon is the largest equatorial forest in the world and occupies approx 42% of the area of Brazil.
2. It contains 30% of the remaining forest in the world - larger than the whole of Western Europe.
3. The Amazon comprises one tenth of our planets plant and animal species and produces one fifth of the world’s oxygen.
4. The river collects water from over 1100 tributaries as it travels more than 4000 miles from the Andes mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
5. It is estimated to carry 20% of the world’s fresh water.
6. It drains an area of over 7 million square kilometres.
7. At the mouth of the river, water flows into the Atlantic at 160-200,000 cubic meters per second - a flow greater than the world’s 8 biggest rivers added together.
We are planning to head to Manaus - then branch right up the Rio Negro towards San Gabriel. How far we will finally get will depend upon the river as we find it, as depths vary enormously during the year. The Rio Negro will not be an easy navigational exercise. The charts show a daunting time ahead.
We have much travelling to do - up against the river current.
We also have some very interesting stops planned - with one of the first being near Santorem - to dive one of the very few “clear” rivers in the Amazon, to hopefully see many dolphin, to watch turtles coming to lay their eggs in the gravel, to spend time getting used to this part of the world - so very different to the frozen south - but so important to each and every one of us.
As we warned, it is hot - and going to get hotter. The humidity will climb as we progress westwards and the jungle closes in.
We don’t have air-conditioning - just good ventilation and the awnings mentioned earlier - to keep the direct sun off the decks.
Tomorrow we all plan to buy our hammocks in the local market - along with the mosquito nets to go with them.
At night, the bunks in most cabins will be empty - with the crew opting for their hammocks in a place under the awning above decks in any wafting breeze - that will often not be there.
It will bring us all closer to the real Amazon - one that we will be able to touch, smell, hear, feel and become a part of - even for just a brief few months.
I hope many of you will also have the same feelings as the crew as we report in each day.
Don (Captain Rabbit) once again has the digital camera “at the ready” for the Log photos.
Franck has just joined from France and will be taking photographs for a worldwide agency as well as working with individual newspapers and magazines.
Geoff is helping Paolo with provision lists and stowage plans. Geoff is looking forward to sampling some of the fish that the Amazon is renowned for.
Charlie and Robin are starting on a gap year that will be different to most.
John is only supposed to be with us to Manaus, but we hope he will stay longer.
Janot has a natural way with languages and does much of our interpreting.
Marc and Ollie are working closely with Miguel - there is much paperwork to do. Marc has spent most of his time since Antarctica planning the details of this expedition/liaising with the authorities in Brazil and Venezuela, and identifying the route - both on the big river and, later, through the jungle waterways to the Orinoco River.
Ollie’s masterminding of the winter refit is paying dividends.
Rodger is still pinching himself from the sail north - a far cry from the bash and crash of the previous delivery through the Southern Ocean from New Zealand to Cape Horn.
Alistair is keeping an eye on the younger members, while Leon develops the forthcoming theme with the film crew - who don’t arrive for a couple more weeks.
Rob has spent the past weeks and months writing up a systems manual for all onboard equipment - working with Janot and Alistair to understand the inner workings of Seamaster. When the jungle team depart in their dug-out canoes, Rob’s role becomes even more vital - because at that point Seamaster must exit the Amazon and sail up the Atlantic to the entrance of the Orinoco River - with far fewer crew.
Each of the crew have a chosen subject to study and report on as we progress up-river - so this will fill in some of the quieter moments.
Tables and chairs on deck will soon accompany the hammocks.
Paolo is looking to buy a large gas-fired barbeque for the afterdeck - to keep the heat from cooking out of the interior.
It’s certainly a different project to the Antarctic. But just as fascinating.
We are all looking forward to heading away, getting clear of the city, and becoming one with what surrounds us.
We hope that you will become part of the crew for what should be a very interesting time - but also one that will help highlight the reasons that the Amazon is so important - to all of us.
Until the next log,
All the best,
PS: Operator error caused a malfunction when transmitting Log 108.
Because of the sophistication of our new programme, Log 108 has now been replaced by this Log 109.