Cruising Notes from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Trinidad, West Indies

Cruising notes from San Fernando, Argentina to Natal, Brazil calling at Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and Rio Grande, Porto Belo, Niteroi (Rio), Buzios, Vitoria, Salvador, Recife, and Natal, Brazil.

May – July 2010

Published 14 years ago, updated 6 years ago


LONE STAR is a sixty-foot cruising ketch and larger than the normal 40 foot cruising boat. We are not equipped with wind generators or solar panels and our preferred berth is in a marina hooked up to shore power. These are the types of facilities we search and plan our voyage to include if possible. Other facilities are available in these stops, as well as anchorages, we chose the facilities that suited our requirements.


Weather patterns we experienced during the months we voyaged were passing southerly fronts from Rio south. These fronts would pass every five days or so, and would often come on strong, (up to 40 knots) with the wind fading off quickly in the two days to follow. We found it best to leave after the heavy winds that lead the front pass. North of Rio to Vitoria we found the easterly winds dominate, with light southeast winds every week or so. Once north of Vitoria we found the winds to be mainly from the east or east/southeast with velocities in the squalls of over 25 knots. The rain was also common that time of year, often lasting days at a time. From Recife to the equator, we experienced strong 18-25 knot southeast winds with a good push from a two-knot current. We sailed a course that kept us 70-90 nautical miles off the coasts direct to Trinidad, West Indies. North of the equator the wind diminished and we found ourselves in fewer than ten knots of wind, from the south/southeast, and often less. The current north of the equator lessened to less than one knot, but still in our favor.


We found the staff at the yacht clubs and marinas and the authorities very helpful, good-natured, and friendly in all our ports of call. To avoid making several trips, and getting caught at “siesta time,” check with the clubs and marinas about the operating times of the various authorities. As a general rule, they are open from 9-11:30 and 2:30-4:00 Monday to Friday. This varies, and many are open 24 hours as well as weekends. Long trousers and a collared shirt are recommended, if not required. I suggest this practice in every office, in every country. It shows respect to the office. Ask yourself, would you go to borrow money from a bank in shorts and a sleeveless shirt? There is only one chance to make a good first impression.

I speak near-fluent Spanish; however, there were many moments of confusion with the local Portuguese. I did find that in almost all cases the people of Brazil very willing to communicate. The food is great, the coastline is beautiful, and facilities good. We were fortunate; we had no problems with theft or mugging. We kept a low profile with no flashy clothes, cameras or jewelry, and we kept hatches locked with loose items off the deck. When we used our dinghy with outboard, we locked it to the secure dinghy docks or hoisted it on board for the night. Crime and rough areas do exist, as they do all over the world, we just kept our situational awareness at a high level, especially going to and from a bank or ATM, and did not take any chances such as walking around at night. We tried to pay by credit card to avoid having to carry cash. All the supermarkets we visited, except some of the small markets, all took credit cards. Provisioning costs and eating out was about 20 percent less in Argentina than in Brazil.


The very exclusive Yacht Club Argentino – San Fernando, is about six hours by boat, or one hour by train from Buenos Aires. It is a private club and limited to visitors. We were a guest of one of the senior members. Potable water, electricity, and limited Wi-Fi are available at the slip. Other marinas are in this area, and it is best to go from marina to marina asking to stay. The Prefecture and Aduana are both located in Tigre, only a short taxi ride away. Here formalities are carried out for clearing in and out. An extension to our original eight months Admission Temporal was granted for another eight months with the help of the yacht club. All facilities are available here including a 70-ton Travel Lift. This is the sailing area of Buenos Aires, and here you will find chandleries and service representatives available for almost everything.

Clean fuel is available at their fuel dock, and payable by credit card. I did not inquire if it was available to non-members or non-guests of the club. ATM’s and banks are in San Fernando, as well as good provisioning and laundry service. The central area of Buenos Aires is only a 45-minute train ride away. This is a good place to stock up on good meats and wine.


Contact Control Maritimo when arriving and departing on VHF 16/13.

We were required to get a slip here rather than use a mooring buoy. Facilities are excellent, and you secure to a mooring buoy and to the concrete docks. Potable water and electricity are available at each slip. Price was 40 US per day (low season).

Formalities are in the marina complex and include Aduana, Port Captain, and Prefectura. Immigration needed to be called (the Aduana lady did this for us) and came to their marina complex office. Wi-Fi is available at shoreside restaurants. Provisioning, ATM’s, banks, Internet café’s and laundry service are walking distance from the marina.

Fuel is available at the fuel dock; however, we did not purchase.

There is a great walking tour of the point, and we felt safe at all hours.


Contact Rio Grande Pilot Station VHF 16/09 when outside of the outer jetties. This entrance can be very rough under certain conditions due to tide and wind conditions.

We stayed at the Museo Oceanographic near the yacht club. You will first enter the main port than proceed another ten miles to the city center. Once past the large ship wharf, you will turn to port at the naval station. Do not wander too far to the right once you have made the turn to port at the naval station, it appeared to be shallow. From here you will pass numerous fishing vessels and their respective wharves until you see a dock with a greenhouse on stilts next to it, which is one of the museums’ docks. There is another dock slightly beyond where you can tie or raft to other sailing vessels. Limited power and both potable and non-potable water are available. Wi-Fi is also available on board. There is no listed charge; however, we made a donation to the museum comparable to what we would pay in a regular marina.

Fuel is available at the fishing boat wharf; however, we did not purchase. Provisioning is good in town; however, we did not feel comfortable walking around at night.

This was our first stop in Brazil and we hired a taxi to go to the Policia Federal, Capitania Dos Portos, and Receita Federal (Customs). At the Receita Federal, we were asked for an insurance policy to establish the value of the vessel. Both Policia Federal and Capitania Dos Portos exit papers were required to depart. Go to the Policia Federal first, then to the Capitania, and then to the Receita Federal. This took all afternoon.


We stayed at the Iate Clube Porto Belo and here we moored to a mooring ball and tied to the outer harbor pier. At first they tried to have us tie alongside the outer wall, however, the pier is tall and the lower freeboards of sailing vessels make this not a good choice. There are slips available to members only inside the pier. Potable water and electricity on the pier.

Security in the club was great, and we felt very safe walking around the neighboring areas. The rate was the US $75.00 per night, paid only in reals. There is a good mechanic there, and we had our transmission overhauled at the nearby Hurth Repair facility. Wi-Fi is available at the clubhouse and the restaurant was open Thursday-Sunday. Laundry was available on site. We checked in with the Capitania Dos Portos in Itajai, about 45 minutes away by car.

Provisioning is fair, and we liked the quietness and beauty of this area. Clean fuel is available at the club’s fuel dock, paid only in reals.


We moored at the Club Naval Charitas where most boats around 40 feet are tied stern to the pier from a mooring buoy. We were lucky, the Commandant saw our boat and gave us permission to tie up to the loading and unloading T-head for our stay. Here we found potable water and limited electricity. Wi-Fi is available in the clubhouse or pool area. I don’t recall the nightly rate; however, it increases based on the number of days. We were able to pay by credit card.

We set a breast anchor to keep us off the wall from wakes of ferries that run during the week to Rio. Suzy, a fellow cruiser in a yellow sloop, is very welcoming and helpful to visiting sailors. She can arrange gas bottles to be filled and often put together “Pot Luck Dinners.” We checked in with the Capitania Dos Portos in Rio not far from the ferry dock. We were not asked to check in with the Policia Federal and we were told that this was not necessary by fellow cruisers. Security was good and we felt comfortable walking around outside the club. Provisioning is excellent in Niteroi and there are several nice restaurants near the club. There is a chandlery on site and in Rio, you can find several, as well as service representatives for engines and electronics. We arranged a service agent from Rio to have our software updated on our Furuno autopilot here. We did not require fuel here but understand it is available at the Yacht Club Rio De Janeiro, but difficult under surge conditions.

The twenty-minute ferry is a five-minute walk from the club and runs to the main port near the domestic airport in Rio, weekdays. The Capitani Dos Portos is located near the terminal. We were not required to take a number in this busy office, I just showed my papers to the duty clerk at the entrance, and he brought it to the attention of the personnel responsible foreign recreational vessels.


We tied to a mooring buoy in front of the yacht club for 50 meals a day, paid in reals. The club manager took photocopies of our papers, and no other check-in was required. The club is nice and has a good and secure dinghy dock. Wi-Fi is available in the restaurant area.


We secured with anchor and stern tied to a mooring ball inside a concrete dock apart from the main club docks. We passed between the yellow buoys and the dock and found 14 feet of water. The dock is condemned and you are not allowed to walk or secure to it. It looked to be in good repair, so who knows why it is not being used? (Update by Pedro Gualandi Sep. 2013: The reason for this situation was a legal battle.  The club was sued by some citizen that was asking for the demolition of the dock, arguing that it was built without the proper authorizations. But the club won and the dock is now free to be used again). We found the club very friendly and welcoming. I checked in with the Capitania Dos Portos and they also signed us out due to our anticipated stay of only four days. The yacht club staff called the Policia Federal and two officers came the next day. They were confused as to why they were called and told us everything is in order and that it is not necessary to check in with them. The guest charge was 5 reals per day. Good facilities with both Wi-Fi and laundry service available. The fuel dock would be okay at the high tide of up to 40-foot vessels, and it is cash only. We used our dinghy to transfer fuel back and forth. We were told that the dock water was non-potable. The area surrounding the club is nice and safe to walk around. Vitoria was one of our favorite stops.


We contacted the park ranger on VHF 16 upon arrival, and we were instructed to anchor in the sand on the north side of Iila Santa Barbara. The wind was southeast and the anchorage was not comfortable. The winds later shifted to the east making it more uncomfortable. During an east wind, there is no anchorage that is protected. Against the advice of the park ranger, another vessel secured to a mooring on the south side of Isla Santa Barbara and broke free during the night.

The park ranger offered us a tour of the only island we could visit, IIha Sirba, and we enjoyed the tour. He charged us 50 reals per person, which we found was a bit of a gouge; however, if it helps keeps the place clean, then it is worth it. I would agree with the cost of staying or touring beforehand to avoid this surprise. Nice place, very clean and worth a visit.


We stayed at the Bahia Marina and enjoyed it very much. We were tied alongside at a cost of 200 Reals a day. Good shore power and water available on the dock. I am not sure if it was potable or not. Marina staff was very helpful with helping us find a few things. Visa card accepted including at the floating fuel dock which is very easy to access at all tide levels, and where we found clean fuel. Good provisioning in town; however, we never felt comfortable walking around, and we took taxis everywhere.

You will be required to check in with the Policia Federal before you proceed to the Capitania Dos Portos. The Policia Federal is located next to the Receita Federal in the main port, a ten-minute walk from the Capitania. You will need to enter the waterfront side of the port at a terminal for passengers, that is about 200 meters further down and then backtrack along the water side of the port to the Policia Federal office which posts its hours a 9-12 and 2-5 Monday thru Friday and only 9-12 on Saturday. This was the only port that checking in with the Policia Federal was mandatory. The Policia Federal lady also told me that is was required in all ports and my mention that the other ports did not require this fell on deaf ears. The Capitania was adamant that I check in with her first, and would not check us in or out without her paperwork.


We anchored in front of the Iate Clube Pernambuco, due to all the moorings being full. The club is open for lunch and offers security day and night. The mooring field is in poor holding and we dragged once in the strong current. Fuel is available at the Iate Clube Recife at high tide only. It is clean, but they only accept cash. We transferred with dinghy due to depth restrictions. No Wi-Fi was available at the club. Plenty of trash floating around depending on the tide.

Check in was easy at the Capitania Dos Portos and we were told by the Policia Federal that checking in was only necessary when we leave the country. Our stay here was short due to there being no facilities for our seven-foot depth or a good place to anchor. Pontoon docks are in the plan and hopefully, they will come soon.


We enjoyed our stay here at the Iate Clube Natal where we anchored and secured to a mooring. The club is nice with cold water showers. The pool is not available to visitors. We received the first three days free. Wi-Fi available in the club area as well as laundry service. The club secretary was helpful in helping us rent a car, find stores in town, and she checked us in via fax to the Capintina Doc Portos. Provisioning is great at several supermarkets in the city. The area around the club was a bit rough, but we found Punta Negra, the tourist area, very safe and fun. The Dune Buggy tours are a must.

This was our final port of call in Brazil, and we were asked to go to the Policia Federal in Natal, half an hour away by car, because no officers were available to come to the club. We were also required to go to the Receita Federal Office and Capitania Dos Portos, which are in the nearby port.

Note: we fueled at the yacht club using their tanks and hose on the transit dock by jerry can. We later discovered that the fuel was very dirty causing us to change primary filters many times. When we first asked where to get fuel, we were told it was not available at the club because their pump was broken. At any rate, if you get fuel from the hose on the transit dock, check it carefully.

Miles Thompson/14 August 2010


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