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Exploring the Amazon between Belem and Macapa

By Sue Richards last modified Aug 08, 2012 09:11 PM

Published: 2012-08-08 21:11:32
Countries: Brazil

The Amazon – well, a small part of it anyway.

Voyager explored the area between Belem and Macapa via Breves and many of the furos (small rivers) in between. We essentially navigated the west side of Ilha de Marajo and ended-up in the Amazon proper at Macapa.

Our adventure began in Belem, about 100nm up the Para River from the river mouth. Don’t attempt navigating the River Para at night. Fishermen string nets at seemingly random areas across the river plus there are logs & trees floating down the river that must be avoided. We simply found a few anchorages along the way by looking at our C-Map charts and Google Earth and searching-out likely looking spots. It turned-out to be relatively easy & straight forward to navigate the river & find anchorages. The tidal currents run strongly in all the rivers & furos in the area, but we simply powered into it when going the “wrong” way.

Belem

Once in Belem, we found a mooring at “Marina B&B;” located at 001* 28.63’S 048* 28.47’W. The mooring cost $5 USD/night and was located immediately in front of the marina dock where they let us land our dinghy and promised security. Diesel and water were available at the floating fuel station and clean showers were available ashore.

Be very cautious anywhere outside the gates of the Marina. Immediately outside the gate was a shanty town that we were repeatedly warned about. Let the gate guard flag a taxi for you & go from there. Tip him & he’ll be happy to do it again next time. Get a couple of business cards from the marina before you venture out so you can show them to taxi drivers for the return trip. The Ver-O Peso market is a good place to stock up on produce, but is not the best part of town. During the week when the market was open we shopped in the morning, but I would recommend avoiding it later in the day and on Sundays. Our crew was mugged near the Ver-O-Peso Market at knife point on Sunday when the market was closed, so be vigilant!

Navigating the River

Planning the navigation for the river between Belem and Macapa was more nerve-wracking than it needed to be. I envisioned many forks in the rivers with probable wrong turns and shallow areas etc, however my concerns turned-out to be unjustified. It turns-out that virtually any furo large enough to get Voyager down was both deep & a thoroughfare.

Google Earth proved to be invaluable as both planning and navigation tools as a great chart plotter and the ultimate eye-in- the-sky (get Google Earth talking to your GPS to show your real-time position – A program named “Tallon”, available from Greg Heppenstall is helpful). When you have good internet access, simply clear the cache in Google Earth and then plan your route using Google Earth. All the areas you viewed will be cached and can be viewed again whether you are connected to the internet or not.

We departed Belem and proceeded south of Ilas das Oncas and then turned back to the north toward the River Para. This area west of Ilas das Oncas turned-out to be one of the few shallow areas we had to deal with. Stay on the East side of the river near the Ilas das Oncas until near the river Para. We decided to take an impromptu turn thru the Furo Arrozal starting at 001* 27.5’S 048* 36.0’W. We were surprised to see high-tension wires over this furlough about ½ way through and we estimate the height to be about 75’ near the shore tower. Our 60’ mast made it under at mid-tide. Once back in the River Para, we simply motored westward until about 3:00 each afternoon, then we began searching for an anchorage for the night.

Breves

We turned towards Breves at 001*47.39’S 050* 19.77’W. Breves was a busy little river town that looked both fun and interesting to explore. We didn’t see any anchoring or dinghy landing options so we simply amused ourselves by motoring slowly along the waterfront and then proceeding on. Another set of high tension wires stretched across the river just north of Breves and we would estimate these to be about 100 ft. high near the towers.

Exploring the Smaller Furos

The area north of Breves is where we really began to explore. During the planning phase of this trip, we struggled with which route to take once north of Breves. As it turned-out, it’s all easy and deep so we chose to make many random turns down many random furos and it was always enjoyable. In fact, the smaller furos turned-out to be the most interesting ones providing the best jungle experience. We chose to anchor away from civilization whenever possible.

One exception was our anchorage at 000* 52.95’S 050* 42.78’W. We anchored right in front of the small village and it turns-out to have been a very enjoyable experience. The locals even gave us guided tours of the smaller furos in their long-tail boat. Maybe we should have exercised the in-village anchoring option more often.

The furos are littered with sunken logs so if you ever want to see your anchor again, rig a trip line. I estimate we would not have been able to recover the anchor without the trip line about ½ the time. However, having said that, the trip line was problematic too. If you float a small ball over the anchor the strong currents will pull it underwater. This is a prescription for getting it caught in your prop when trying to raise the anchor. It happened to us & I had to dive in zero visibility water & strong currents to free it. If you set a large float like a fender, the large rafts of river hyacinth & even floating trees could trip your anchor in the middle of the night. If you tie the trip line to the boat, the boat will float over the anchor during tide change and the trip line can get caught under the keel & trip the anchor. This happened to us in Afua & we dragged into the soft mud there. We never did figure-out a good, dependable system. Perhaps you should use your spare anchor on an expendable rode in case you need to abandon it.

Afua

We slowly meandered up to Afua. Afua was a delightful little town and the only town in Brazil were we felt perfectly safe. We anchored right in front of the church in 15’ with good holding in mud.

When we left Afua for the 45 nmi trip to Macapa it took us 3 days to arrive. Do not attempt to take one of the “shortcuts” on either side of Ihla Do Cara’ as they are too shallow. After wasting a couple of days of trying, we gave up and went north up to the ship channel and approached Macapa in the deep water of the Amazon proper.

The area “down” and out the Amazon from Macapa toward the NE turned- out to be the most difficult part of the whole trip. Tidal currents were vicious so we had to time our passages & anchorages. Then once we got out into the mouth of the Amazon we were greeted by strong headwinds, choppy seas and the ability to make headway only when the tide was going our way. We actually anchored miles off-shore in rough conditions to wait-out the contrary tides.

Conclusion

Don’t let any of these strange (to ocean sailors) maladies of river cruising deter you from exploring the area. We found it to be a rewarding experience. The jungle was beautiful, we saw pink dolphins & toucans and the locals were as friendly as could be.

Enjoy

Rick & Suza Goltz
S/V Voyager

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