Cruising Notes

The Brazilian Ribeira

Ribeira – a rural village on the Rio Paraíba

The Rio Paraíba, already a popular point of entry for visitors to Brazil, now boasts a new mooring facility intended expressly for low-budget yotties. Situated five miles from the river’s entrance and the port of Cabedelo, the Ribeira Adventure Club lies opposite the well-known cruising venue of Jacaré.
Although the channel leading up to this mini-marina is not sufficiently deep to admit the average deep draught cruising yacht, centreboarders, catamarans, and smaller yachts can get through.

The High Street in the village of Ribeira

Once a quiet fishing village, Jacaré is now a busy place popular with the Brazilian jet-set and notorious for its all-night music. Ribeira, on the other hand, is still nothing more than a collection of adobe cottages strung out along a muddy, rutted track. Hidden from Jacaré by an island of mangroves, it is an idyllic spot, and one of the few places in the immediate vicinity where the people still pursue an essentially rural lifestyle. Their food comes principally from the river and from their gardens: raised banks of earth hide manioc tubers; a nearby breadfruit tree provides an alternative source of carbohydrate; chickens scratch the dirt between the houses, and extraordinary hump-necked cattle stand tethered amongst the long grass.


Nature, too is more abundant – or more obvious – on this side of the river. Black urubu vultures glide silently overhead; parrots scream from the tree tops; squirrel-sized monkeys cross the lane on a telephone cable tight-rope; and although there are no longer any alligators in the river, from time to time manatees are seen grazing in the shallows.

Macaxeira (aka manioc, cassava, or ipim) growing in front of an adobe cottage

In effect, Ribeira is exactly the kind of place that one pictures when thinking of Brazil. It is the dream venue ; the one where we can moor right in the heart of The Real Brazil and get to know the people and their culture. Alas, such opportunities are surprisingly rare, for – of course – every sheltered bay now hosts a port, and every charming nook is fringed by hotels or holiday villas, roads, shops, and houses. Back-packers with sufficient initiative can still get off the tarmac and get away from the trappings of modernity, but we yotties, carrying and carried by our homes, have to find somewhere safe to moor them. Thus, all too frequently, we find ourselves anchored on the edge of suburbia.
When we do find somewhere out in the sticks then we have to decide for ourselves, by our own intuition and common sense, whether it is safe from all points of view.

Rustic facilities at the Ribeira Adventure Club

The Ribeira Adventure Club is almost unique in that it offers us the perfect compromise. Here, we have a place in the countryside – far from any tarmac, street lights, and highways – but one which is already geared up to welcome us. Here we have somewhere safe to moor; somewhere to take on water and wash the clothes; access to power, should we need it; a place to sit on the grass and gaze at the trees, and – best of all – a super-friendly host, Luciano Zinn.

Luciano Zinn knows all about cruising yotties because he is one. Born and bred in the south of the country, in the city of Porto Allegre, he is of a somewhat different nature to his fellows, most of whom seldom look beyond their national borders.
Brazil is so vast that, it could be said, there is no need to look further afield. Within her boundaries one can find a whole range of climatic and geographic zones, ranging from sultry equatorial rainforest through to the chilly mountainous regions which lie in the south, far outside the tropics. As I write these words it is winter but I am sitting, a few hundred miles south of the equator, in my birthday suit; and I’m sweating. Meanwhile, friends cruising around the Bahia da Ilha Grande, west of Rio, are lighting their cabin heaters each evening.

Luciano Zinn with his partner, Concita

Brazil is so huge that the folks living in the north call their southern compatriots “gringos” (foreigners). Many of them seem never to have looked at a map of the world. Some whom we have met think that England is part of Germany, and that Europe is in America, and that America is in New York.
With this mind-set, the country is independent and strong; it produces most of its own goods. What it doesn’t tend to produce is people with the yen to travel abroad.
But Luciano was different. He had that urge to see the world.

Sailing canoe on the Rio Paraíba wearing her ridiculously big, racing sail

Besides containing an immense variety of scenery this vast domain also includes almost 5,000 miles of marine coastline and several thousand more of navigable river; and yet, despite the fact that it has so much water to play with, there are very few yachtsmen in Brazil. As a rule, one sees two types of boat owner here. On the one hand there are the peasant fishermen with their sailing canoes; and on the other there are the super-rich bombing about in their stink-pots, and the also-rich in their Beneteaus. What you don’t tend to see in this country is ordinary folk kicking about in old boats. That entire scene, so familiar to English sailors, is completely missing.
Despite this, Luciano Zinn was drawn to the sea. And eventually – having gone through the same struggles that many of us go through – he managed to raise enough money to buy a small boat.

Luciano’s ambition was to live aboard and cruise for as long as a year. As he told us, he hoped that his savings would last that long but he had his doubts. In the event he discovered that the cruising lifestyle is – or can be – far cheaper than most people would dare to imagine, and he ended up following his whims all the way up the coast of Brazil to the Caribbean, across the Atlantic to Europe, from Europe down to the Canary Islands… and eventually, back to South America. Clearly, one can complete this trip inside a year, but Luciano managed to make his money last for five.

French cruising yacht on the Rio Paraíba

When he arrived home Luciano’s principal ambition was to set off again, and the Ribeira Adventure Club is the means by which he hopes, eventually, to achieve that end. As well as providing cut price facilities for fellow yotties he also aims to involve local people, and to that end is aiming to acquire a fleet of canoes and a clutch of mountain bikes. These will be available for hire. Eventually, one imagines, the Club will also be able to organise guided excursions for visiting yotties.

Besides being an idyllic venue Ribeira is ideal for folks who are seeking somewhere to leave the boat for six months, in compliance with Brazil’s peculiar customs regulations. (As the rules stand, the crew of a yacht can stay for a maximum of six months in any one year but the yacht can remain for two years… Thus, many people leave their yachts and fly home to work or to visit family.)
Luciano claims that his mooring fees are the lowest in all Brazil, and at the time of our visit they were certainly 40% lower than the charges in Jacaré marina.

Canoa ferries in Jacaré, on the opposite side of the river

Sixty kilometres of forest and sugar-cane fields separate Ribeira from the nearest town – João Pessoa – but although the place is isolated it is not cut off. Once a day a bus comes bounding and bouncing along the lumpy lane; but the bus is best viewed as an adventure excursion. If you actually want to go anywhere or do anything – if you want to shop or visit the city – then you simply hop aboard a “canoa” and cross the river. The journey takes about fifteen minutes, and from Jacaré the city of Joa Pessoa is just a twenty minute train ride.

The one problem with Ribeira is getting in there. The channel is only navigable at high tide, and it is unmarked. Thus, if you want to take your boat over there you do best to contact Luciano in advance. He is very happy to pilot vessels in and out of the creek.

Yotties crossing the river to Ribeira for a barbecue

At the time of our visit the channel was not deep enough to admit boats of more than two metres draught. We went there anyway – by “canoa” – and enjoyed a barbecue on the waterfront. Sitting on Luciano’s lawn, looking out across the muddy river, it was hard to believe that we were still only five miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, as the black vulture and the egret fly we were only two miles from the sea, yet from the feel of the place we might have been half way up the Amazon.

The sun sets behind a forest of palm trees

Luciano Zinn, the “gringo” from the south, has certainly found a very special place – but, naturally, his feet still get itchy. Even on the stillest night, when the tree frogs have gone to sleep and the rainforest is silent, one cannot hear the surf breaking on the beach at Cabadelo, yet, for all that, Luciano still hears the call of the sea. From time to time he leaves his lovely wife, Concita, to take care of Ribeira and he flees the forest and the river and delivers yachts up and down his native coast, or sails them to and from the Caribbean.
Ultimately he hopes to spend half the year on site and the other half cruising again… So, if anyone fancies investing time and a bit of capital in the project and likes the idea of spending six months of each year in Brazil, Luciano would be glad to hear from them.

Waypoints for the channel leading up to Ribeira can be found on Luciano’s website.

One Comment

  1. Hi Jill and Family!!

    I just read your text and i was very happy with it. Was excellent and i will always be grateful for you helping me spread the Ribeira Adventure Club.

    Thank you always,

    Luciano and Concita

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