Land Ho! - Arrival in Baia da Palmeira, Sal, Cabo Verde

28th Mar 2003 This morning we awake to a very strange landscape, one formed some four million years ago, and to this eye, very little changed since. Dormant volcanoes dominate the view from our anchorage some 500 metres off shore. Beneath them lies a barren brown dusty land. We are in the Baia da Palmeira, a small well sheltered bay on the west coast of Sal, one of the seven main islands that make up the arquipelago of Cape Verde roughly 360 miles off the west coast of Africa.

If you fly to the Cape Verde this is your first port of call. On first glance there seems little other reason to come here, though Ian Endlander geologist and ornithologist, has already informed us this morning reading from Bradts Guide, “….you are encouraged to visit the lobster handling plant.” Quite.

We are here to pick up Dr Simon Berrow, the west Clare based marine biologist and the man heading up “Cape Clear to Cape Verde” Irish Humpback Whale Expedition. As soon as we find him, we will be on our way to Mindelo on Sao Vincente, calling first on Boa Vista.

The journey that has brought us to Cape Verde started back last November when we sailed aboard the Anna M from Baltimore, West Cork to El Rompido, Spain. It was an at times very rough passage, in particular 48hrs spent crossing the Bay of Biscay will be hard to forget. On arrival at our destination the cost of damage sustained was in excess of €20,000; getting holed beneath the waterline is a costly business, not to mention a hazard to your nerves. That said, I spent the winter and early spring eagerly awaiting our departure on this second leg.

And what a stark contrast it has been. We left the small seaside village of El Rompido on Monday 10th of March at just after six in the evening and under motor, a setting sun and a very light breeze head south. By Tuesday morning conditions had changed – skipper of the Anna M Joe Aston calling Matthew Aston and myself for a sail change at 05.30. In strengthening winds and a heaving swell we scampered about on the foredeck changing the jib and staysail. By mid-morning we were skipping along under brilliant sunshine. We were also “very green”, struggling to keep water and seasick tablets in the holds of stomachs. Matthew failed twice. I barely managed. Thankfully that was the worst of it and within 24 hours we had our sea legs, thanks in no small part it is has to be acknowledged to the fourth crewmember, Fionnuala Aston, artist extraordinaire and top “nurse” who made sure we stuck to the regime necessary to limit the effects of seasickness.

We made the Canary Islands six days and four hours later. Bar 36 hours when the winds played up, the sailing was largely peachy. Having sailed with Joe on the previous leg I was familiar with his ways, which are quite endearing. At least I find them so, though not everyone is of this impression! His 16-year-old son Matthew is a very capable sailor. He also possesses a very sharp and honest mind, the lash of which we all felt! The aforementioned Fionnuala, a 24-year-old art student, was a breath of fresh air, always positive, always giving, always cooking, sometimes laughing at unseen jokes and, if you got up early enough towards the end of her watch, always singing. Think Maureen O' Hara meets banshee and you have the jist of it!!

En route we saw dolphins both common and spotted, the latter more energetic and acrobatic in their displays. Shearwaters were constantly on-hand gliding perilously close to the waves but with the skill and grace to never quite touch them. One morning Joe and I saw a hoopoe pass within reaching distance (the hoopoe kind of looks like an African bee-eater). A wheatear also joined us, using the Anna M to launch feeding forays. The sunsets and sunrises never failed to impress.

In Puerto Mogan, a marina etched into the volcanic mountains and located away from the fleshpots of Los Palmas and Puerto Rico on the west coast of Gran Canaria, we bought provisions and readied the Anna M for the fin