Tuesday October 2nd, 2001
We stopped yesterday afternoon around 4:30 pm and anchored about 100 metres from the river bank in 8 metres of water. There was no wind at all.
Some of the crew had the dinghy in the water very quickly to go and see what a fisherman nearby was catching in his nets. It was a small wooden boat, about 8 metres long, with an accommodation “hut” on the aft end - and the hold for the fish and net taking up the rest.
Marc and Janot gave a hand to help pull the net in - and it wasn’t as easy as they at first thought it might be. A number of fish were caught - and Rodger bought a couple of large ones for our evening meal.
Within a few minutes of being back onboard Seamaster, Paulo had them cleaned and ready to bbq on deck once the sun set and the heat eased.
As the light faded, smoke from cooking fires drifted across the narrow channels - like fingers of mist in the still, evening air.
The fishermen kept laying and retrieving their nets until after dark. They told us that they transferred their catches each day onto a larger boat - which delivered them back to the market in Belem.
A number of the pink river dolphin appeared just before dark - and stayed around all night. These ones were a rich medium pink - quite extraordinary.
They grow to about 2.5 metres in length, can weigh up to 150 kilos, and are the main predators of fish in the Amazon - often heading away from the main channels into the flooded forest (at high river) in pursuit of their prey.
Their eyesight is reportedly not too good - but they are masters in the use of their built-in sonar (echo location), which is more useful in the muddy brown waters of the river.
The night was quiet - with Seamaster facing into the out-flowing river all night. There seemed to be no tidal flow.
We kept our deck floodlights on, and although some crew chose to sleep in their hammocks under the awning, there were still 2 or 3 crew patrolling the decks with flashlights, making sure that anyone watching us realised that we were aware.
The full moon lit the scene for the whole night, with only occasional breaks when it slid behind a cloud.
At 6am we were off again. A cup of tea or coffee, time to check and warm the engines and we eased away up river once more, the morning very cool and fresh with the air temperature at a low 24 degrees C. There was a smoky mist rising in tendrils off the calm waters, easy to see against the backdrop of the awakening jungle. The smell of open fires and breakfasts being prepared also wafted from the shores on the faint breeze that little more than ruffled the surface of the water.
Coming out of the Furo Ituquara, where we spent the night, we had to weave our way between the long nets laid in the pre-dawn hours by the fishermen. Most people seemed to be up and around with the coming of the sun, and no doubt go to bed soon after it sets.
We are now heading up one of the main sections of the River Amazon - pushing against a 3 knot current - and expect to get a further 80 to 100 miles before once again stopping for the night. The river is so big that we could keep going after dark, but stopping and looking and listening and smelling and taking it all in is why we have come here.
The river is wide at this point - wide and brown. We have been passing numerous canoes all day - and many small fishing boats. A good lookout has to be kept for nets at all times, as they often stretch for many hundreds of metres across our path.
We have also passed numerous log-carrying barges - heading down the river. Supposedly much of the logging of the Amazon trees is illegal, but there is little done about it.
Jose’, our pilot, has told us that mosquitoes will be out in force tonight, and that even he will be putting on the insect repellent.
The afternoon is very warm - with temperatures in the shade around 35 deg C. However, our exposed deck, even though it is painted a pale cream, in the full glare of the early afternoon sun is presently registering 59 deg C. Thank goodness for the Polar insulation beneath the decks to shield the accommodation.
Rodger Moore has spent many months with us now, often to be found sorting out generally unsavoury plumbing problems in the bilge. Having a father and son (Alistair) in our crew actually works very well. Both have a passion for what we are doing, and I was very pleased when Rodger offered to pen a piece for today’s Log.
My thoughts on the Amazon
Here I am, one year since my introduction to Seamaster. What an experience!!
First, the four week crossing of the Southern Ocean, the rounding of Cape Horn and the Beagle Canal. Then the sail from Ushuaia past the Falkland Islands to Buenos Aires. Then again the great sail from BA up the coast of Brazil to the entrance of the Amazon.
The crew is now working like a well-oiled machine, and they are a great bunch of guys.
The boat has been transformed to handle tropical conditions; i.e. shade covers over the whole boat, a river water purification system and many more.
I am in my newly purchased hammock sitting/lying while I make notes.
We have chosen various topics of interest to study and make comment; mine, the Amazon history and exploration.
The recent history changed forever with the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th Century. First, the Portuguese, then the Spanish. The Spanish made two trips down the Amazon after plundering the Incas in the Andes. The Portuguese were the first to travel up-stream in 1637-1638.
There was a signed treaty between these two nations, but the boundary was stretched in favour of the Portuguese because of their presence in the Amazon basin.
After the initial rush for the elusive gold had failed, the quest became intellectual enlightenment. The conquistadors ‘green hell’ became the naturalist’s ‘paradise’. As awareness grew of immense botanical riches, so the next group of people to explore and discuss Amazon wonders were the exploring scientists, a huge attitude difference between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Amongst the first was a Frenchman, Charles Marie de la Condamine, who came to resolve an argument over the precise shape of the earth. He took leave, planning to be away for 2 years, but stayed 10, taking back with him to the changing Europe in 1745 the first example of latex sap from a rubber tree, an important product in starting the industrial revolution.
The next great explorer was Baron Alexander Von Humboldt, who documented over 12,000 plant species, most of which were new to science. He also entered the natural canal between the Orinoco and the Amazon river systems, the Casiquiare, and tracked it for 322 kilometres in a very arduous journey.
Another, Henry Walter Bates, in 1848 came and documented close to 15,000 insects. His 1863 publication “The Naturalist on the River Amazon” is regarded as one of the best contemporary accounts of Amazon natural history.
All of these and more discoveries gave the industrial revolution many of the raw materials to help with the development of the modern world.
One of the first was a remedy used by the native Indians against malaria - quinine, a bitter tasting alkaloid obtained from the red bark tree, a native to Peru and Ecuador. Condamine tried in 1736 to bring the quinine to Europe but failed, but in 1860 an Englishman took seeds to India where they flourished and became a worldwide treatment.
The drug was made into a tonic and the colonials added it to gin where its juniper berries effectively masked the bitterness of quinine. Thus the world famous gin & tonic was born.
Hardwoods, including mahogany & teak, were exported in large quantities. Chocolate made from the seeds of the ‘cacao’ tree became a popular drink amongst teetotallers, notably Quakers such as the Cadbury family.
But nothing prepared the Amazon for the effect of the strange latex first discovered by Condamine. Like quinine, rubber was known to the Indians and used long before the Europeans arrived.
Its value became huge due to the industrial revolution. Private companies and governments controlled its cost by strictly controlling exports. Native Indians were forced to tap the raw latex from the trees and prepare it for shipping, under fear of death & torture. Indians were literally worked to death in the ever-increasing lust for profit.
Rubber ruled supreme for 30 years between 1880-1910. Eventually plants were smuggled out of the Amazon to British colonies around the world and the monopoly held by the rubber barons was broken.
However, the city of Manaus on the Amazon was built because of the rubber boom. We are on our way there, so I’ll report on the city of extravagance when we get there.
We should be anchoring off to the side of the river some time before 6pm - see the map for our planned stopping point for the night.
The decks are now so hot that shoes are necessary. The red dinghy has just blown a seam due to the high temperatures - our fault, as we should have put the cover on earlier. We will need to ready the deck water-spray system for tomorrow, as the breeze from behind is the same strength as the speed of our vessel - resulting in little airflow at all.
We have a few more days of travel before we reach Santorem - our first expedition stopping point - where we plan to spend a few days - where hopefully the river will be clear enough to dive - where the wildlife is supposed to be very prolific.
Until the next Seamaster Log,
Peter and Crew.