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News From RIO

Hi family and friends, Constante Singapore has completed 2 ocean crossing – the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic. We arrived safely and extremely happy in Rio de Janeiro on May 23rd 2009 at around 3 pm. It took us a total of 51 days from South Africa to Brazil; quite different from the Indian Ocean which took us a year. We spend 14 days from Simon’s Town-South Africa, 18 days rest in St Helena and 19 days cross from St-Helena to Rio. For many it would take only a day or less to fly. But we had the taste of privacy as a family together in our own way. Many people would ask us - what do you do at sea? How and what do you eat? My favorite question is do you anchor the boat and rest in the middle of the sea at night? Sometimes we get naughty and answer:
“Oh yes, there is also a 7-eleven shop on a ship that comes to our boat to sell us food and ice-cream.” Of course we don’t anchor in the middle of the sea and there is no 7-eleven, the whole cross is non-stop and poor Franck has to do 25 minute watches at night to watch for other boats and cargo ships as we do not have a radar on board. When weather is bad, he can be up all night adjusting sails. During the day, he tries to catch up with sleep while I keep watch, usually he can sleep for about 1-2 hours. As a responsible father, I guess he does not want to take any chances. We have read enough horror and unfortunate accidents at sea that we need to take lots of extra precaution and be fully alert.
Our favorite sleep schedule is after dinner, Franck sleeps with the girls, I watch till about 10 or 11 pm on good days. He does the 25 minute watches till 6 am. I awake with the girls and take over the watch, Franck sleeps from 6-8 or 9 am. I take a nap in the morning before lunch and he takes a nap after lunch. This is what works for us and the girls routine is not disrupted. They have their full 10-12 hour sleep at night and their full play-time during the day. For Franck it is difficult when the night is rough.

During the South Atlantic cross, with more experience from the Indian Ocean cross, and not forgetting the girls are a lot older and communicative, independent and playing together, we were able to achieve more things that was less easy when we were in a marina. First and foremost, there is no shopping malls, nautical shops and restaurants – no distractions. We are fully focusing on each other’s needs and feelings. Franck in my opinion, has time to be a full-fledge father and husband. After much struggle, he taught Carmen to write her name. When she got the hang of holding the markers and crayons, she drew great pictures and wrote most of the letters on her own. Julie was dancing and clowning around the boat freely, which would not be appreciated by the grumpy and sleepy passengers on the airplane. We were able to sleep horizontally-3 king size beds to choose from, instead of a narrow vertical barely inclined seat unless you pay for a first class seat. Toys and books are in every corner of the boat. We had an occasional movie festival when the wind is blowing hard, otherwise we are limited to one or none which is not a bad thing. The girls have understood that with no wind generator moving, no sun, and no engine, there is NO TV. So, when they start to hear or see one of the listed items, they would scream and shout for tv. Of course, I have never forgotten my favorite classical music selections on board. We sang arias from the operas of Mozart’s Magic Flute and Rossini’s Barber of Seville loudly and with full burst of energy as a family. Carmen even hum the tune of “Ode to Joy”. I know Beethoven would be happy.

Food : We ate well. According to Captain Franck, we loss weight only during the first week and gain it all back. We ate a total of 4 freshly caught dorados (mahi-mahi) no waste at all. I made lots of amazing food – fish head curry, pizza, fresh white bread, apple crumble, chocolate cake, fried noodles, lots of various pasta, fried rice not forgetting our daily dosage of fruits and vegetables. I have learned to buy and pack away fresh food so that they last for up till 18 days without the refrigerator. The secret is to buy them hard and green, wrap them up with newspaper away from moisture and store in dark and dry area with no movement. We had eggs for the girls the whole cross. I turn them every week. I get one or two bad eggs out of the 50 eggs, which is not a bad record. I am going to try in the North Atlantic cross, 80 eggs, so that Franck and I get our share of at least 1 egg a day too.

Some other things we do include maintenance of the boat, lots of careful checking and observation of all equipment. We were able to read and play much more during the South Atlantic cross than the Indian Ocean cross, possibly that the girls and I were less seasick and more experienced by now. Most of all, long conversations over a cup of tea or a meal with each other without having to rush off to work. We had time, lots of time, almost too much but it felt really wonderful - just the sea, the sun, the moon, the stars, the boat and us.

Arrival is always a bitter sweet feeling. The joy of being surrounded by beautiful mountains and seeing civilization once again. Believe me, we are very happy and full of ecstasy, but we also know that the freedom we taste at sea is over. Now we have to face immigration officials, paper work after paper work, checking in-checking out, running around polluted unfamiliar roads, up and down buses and taxis or walking long distances with 2 impatient little toddlers, trying to figure out and buy newly labeled food, oh the list never ends. Just thinking about it makes me tired. Why don’t we just turn back to sea? Plus, Franck is already on his starting line with the boat repair list in his hand ready to run the boat repair marathon. I will not see much of him because he has to run to hardware shops, talk to people in the yard for hours, and hearing him swear in French again because he spills oil in the engine room during oil change, or that he cannot locate the right part for his repair or that it’s triple the price we are use to in Singapore.

From Franck
Our adventure continues, we have been sailing almost two years half way around the globe with our little family. Carmen is now 5 and Julie 3 and a half. We are writing these words in a wonderful anchorage somewhere in a terrestrial paradise near Rio de Janeiro. Thinking of our life and friends back in Singapore brings a smile to our face; how we would love to show you these wonderful places.
South Africa was intense in all respects. Navigation was done carefully, paying extreme attention to the weather. Despite our precautions, we were hit by very strong conditions with winds above 100km/h. Singapore surrounding seas resemble a peaceful lake compared to the dreadful and confused waters of South Africa. But, what a country! People are very welcoming and friendly. They live healthily in one of the most spectacular nature on earth. We have seen great animals living freely in huge game parks. We were for the first time plunged in a notion of green and rocks where no sign of human activities could be seen, just giraffes, hippos, rhinos, elephants, lions and zebras. At sea, the same exuberance of life greeted us all around the coast; whales, seals, sharks and penguins live in harmony. Of course, racial tensions still plague the area, but we were untouched by it.

We left the tip of Africa for a muscular 14 days crossing to St. Helena. 200 years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte was landing on this rock lost in the middle of the South Atlantic; he was 46 years old. I am 45, and could not help to feel very small compared to the legacy this man left in Europe. At the end, it was meaningful to step here and relax among people whose only ambition is to live simply. We spend 18 days in St. Helena and loved every minute of it.
On May 5th 2009, we left the crystal clear waters of St. Helena and started our longest ocean passage so far. 2060 nautical miles and 19 days later, we arrive in one of the most beautiful bay in the world - Rio de Janeiro. There are no words to describe the intense joy that overwhelmed our family when we entered Rio. Green mountains everywhere, the imposing Sugar Loaf on our left, the city and the immense Statue of Christ hovering over our destinies, all greeted our little boat in a perfect welcoming moment. This peak of intense feelings found its opposite counterpart when Meng Ngee was forced to leave Brazil to purchase a visa in Buenos Aires, Argentina two days later. Although Brazilians do not need any particular papers to enter Singapore, we were shocked to learn that she, as a Singaporean, needed a visa to enter Brazil. After a lot of confusion, grief, and money spent on 4 flights, hotels, and bus transport, she came back to Rio with a visa and a stamp on her passport.
Even though the Brazilian authorities showed no sense of welcome, our experience in this beautiful country is excellent so far. We highly recommend all cruisers to sail around Ilha Grande, Angra dos Reis and Paraty. These islands, west of Rio, are filled with beautiful fine sandy beaches and green lushes mountains. We have just extended our 3 months visa for another 3 months. This part of Brazil is truly spectacular. Many is still untouched and unspoiled by civilization. At this day and age, could you believe we are washing our clothes, bathing and drinking water from the mountains? It feels good!

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