Cape Verde 2006: Mindelo – the final anchorage

25th Mar 2006 As I write this final update we are moored alongside the small, single pontoon in Mindelo on Sao Vicente. This is where we picked up RV Adrianna, our research vessel and home for the last 4 weeks, and it is here that we end our adventure.

Over the final 4 days we have been searching the waters to the south of Sao Nicolau, the small islands of Raso and Branco and the now uninhabited island of Saint Luzia. The sea conditions were generally very good with fresh winds and swell only between the islands. According to whaling records from 1850s most whales were caught off Sao Nicolau and Sao Vicente during March to April so we were hopeful we might encounter some humpbacks returning to their former haunts. Despite an extensive search we saw no cetaceans, no dolphins and no whales.

To say we saw no whales would not be completely true. During a few hours ashore on the island of Saint Luzia I walked over to the exposed sandy beach on the north side of the island, intent on scanning the bay for whales and hoping I might find a turtle nesting beach. Windward shores are covered with plastic waste and nets and lines from the fishing industry but as I looked more closely I found the rib of a small whale, then a vertebrae, then another and then saw a skull. Next to that another skull and littered along the shore over about 200m the skeletons of at least 30 small whales. In the depths of my mind I remembered reading about a mass stranding of 165 melon-headed whales on Saint Luzia in 2003. Here were the remains. I have never been at the scene of such a mass stranding before and it was an eerie sight. We took skin samples for genetic studies and left the skulls on the beach – preserved in situ

The last days sail to Sao Vicente was very pleasant and if it wasn't for the last 2 hours bashing our way north up the Canal de Sao Vicente into the wind and swell the lads would have forgotten the long days holding onto to RV Adrianna for dear life, leaning at 30 degrees in an attempt to keep your tea in the mug, and the sheets of salty sea water sheeting down on you as you shelter in the cockpit.

On our arrival at Mindelo we were met by Sonia Merino of INDP (equivalent of the Cape Verde Marine Institute) who invited us to their offices in Mindelo to present our findings and ideas for future collaboration. Their hospitality and encouragement was overwhelming and we played them our recordings of humpbacks whales from Boavista and the IWDG documentary “Return of the Humpbacks” on our first expedition in 2003 and shown on RTE in December 2004.

During the last month we have had it all and I am filled with admiration for Padraig Whooley and Dave Wall who have stuck by me throughout the whole expedition. This was quite a new experience for them both and nothing has phased them or been too much to ask. During the first two weeks the sailing was harder and the weather more challenging, skipper Joe Aston and Tony Whelan, who have sailed a lot together, happily entertained my desire to sail north, sail south, into the wind and swell or during night passages with great humour and commitment. The second crew with skipper Fiacc O'Brolchain at the helm have had plenty of humpback whale encounters to keep in their memories. This was unchartered territory for Jim Wilson, Liam Lysaght and Mick O'Connell but all have not only coped but thrived on the new experiences and maintained their good humour throughout.

So thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of Cape Verde 2006, including our funders (Cape Verde Development, BIM, Heritage Council, Island Foundation a