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Circumnavigation of sal island on a stand up paddle board

My name is Michael Forbes and I have been living near and working with the ocean for 20 years. I arrived in Sal as the captain of a sailboat and sailed between the islands of Sal and Boa Vista regularly. I was lucky enough to experience the deep ocean and soon found hidden treasure.

I moved on and started working with whales and dolphins here on the island of Sal on various boats. Very rewarding work in an environment which still does not suffer from commercial whale and dolphin watching. I was becoming more a part of the ocean than the land and I was becoming more aware of the damage caused to the ocean by human impact.

I started to stand up paddle only a year ago. It appealed to me for so many reasons. I leave no pollution behind. I was tired of the noise and needed to spend the time alone with the ocean. I was happy I had found my own “vessel”. Standing up gives you a far clearer vision of not only your surroundings but also the ability to see into the water.

I snorkel with my stand up, I fish off my stand up, I windsurf off my stand up, but most importantly it gives me the freedom to be me and go and explore this beautiful ocean.

This is the story of my circumnavigation around Sal on a stand up paddle to raise money for Castelos do Sal which is a charitable organisation created by volunteers which aims to promote the rights of vulnerable children, help meet their basic needs and contribute to their overall development.

Castelos do Sal collaborates with state-owned projects in order to complement the work being done and stimulates various development programmes in education, health and nutrition. The association particularly targets the area of Santa Maria, the principal tourist town of the island of Sal as the main point of intervention.

So here is the story of my trip…

circumnavigation of sal island on a stand up paddle board

DEPARTURE: 21ST SEPTEMBER 2011 (International Peace Day)

Forecast: Southerly wind with a chance of showers.

Route for the day: Angulo Centre to Mt Leon.

I started the day nice and early with a clear head, I had still not made the decision to leave. I picked up my board and gear and walked down the beach and to my surprise saw a friend of mine, Adrian. If he could make it to the beach at 6.30am, I could paddle around the island! Slowly but surely more figures appeared and I knew it was time.

At 7am I was off. Head down knowing full well the weatherman was telling stories again, I tried to fall into a rhythm.

Ponta Sino was the first test and did not fail to impress. I was 20 minutes from home and Ponta Sino was nasty, current and swell as well as a 10 knot northerly all straight into my face. I took around an hour to get around the corner and already she was playing games with my head.

I stopped off at Ponta Preta and had some breakfast where the folks from C-Riders met up with me to wish me luck. I was recharged and ready. The paddle from Ponta Preta passed all the new hotels and was beautiful. Clean water and very interesting reef structures made for entertaining paddling with lots of fish and even the odd wave to be had.

I was meeting my good friend Marie at Caletha Funda for lunch and was feeling good and getting ready for the next few days. My plans had changed as I knew the southerly wind was not going to happen. Marie was great, I heard what was to become a famous line of hers,” Don’t you think you should just push on as far as possible?” I did.

It was the first leg where I knew I was going offshore. The bay of Murdeira is fairly wide and I decided to paddle straight across about 1 mile to 1.5 miles offshore. It was a hard but good paddle. Mt Leon was my next stop and my night rest point.

I was surprised not to see Marie on her quad when I arrived. I waited around for a while and then the thought occurred that perhaps she had broken down. I called her and heard a relieved voice on the other side. She then told me the funniest story about how she could no longer see me so she had gathered all the fishermen to count buoys and try to spot me. First day and she wanted to call the coast guard. Yeah right!

Mt Leon is a very special place on this planet and an amazing dinner and great night’s sleep was had at the foot of the mountain.

Day 2

Forecast: North north east 10-12 knots.

Route: Mt Leon up to Burracona.

The shortest day’s paddle. Welcome to the north of the island.

The paddle past the cliffs at Mt Leon is one of the most special experiences anyone on Sal can have. The size, the splendour and the shadows mixed with crystal clear water with abundant fish and bird life is very peaceful. I made a decision to cut through the island, which was very interesting with currents and waves breaking in both directions.

I stopped off at Alibaba for a short water break and paddled around the corner to Palmeira where I hooked up with Marie again who was off to buy supplies. We parted ways and planned to meet up at Buracona.

As soon as I paddled past Palmeira I started to notice the changes.
One bay had plenty of Ridleys turtles and 100m further something large circled around me, a tiger shark I think. I did not pay much attention and neither did it; we both had things to do. The landscape started to change and the coastline became pretty jagged. I was watching out for a keyhole (a place to enter and exit the water), but could not see anything that wouldn’t send you or your board to the clinic. I will never forget paddling around a point only to find 3 seagulls sitting on a rock staring at me wondering what the crazy South African guy was doing!

For some reason I stopped and that was when I noticed the lines of swell heading my way. I paddled up to Buracona but there was no way of exiting the water so I had to make a decision. I had no choice, I knew there was no way out for 20 kilometres ahead of me, I turned around. In my head I knew I had to do something special. This was it; this was what the north was about.

I held up next to a cliff and watched the surge swell rise and fall. One second I was level with the cliff the next second I was admiring the shellfish living on the walls. I looked up and I was level with the land, I made a decision and I jumped. I threw my paddle on to the rocks and grabbed my leash. My board was hanging 25ft over the cliff. With every swell I managed to get it closer and on the third swell my board was back in my arms. I managed to walk up the rocks and about 300 metres to Buracona (what a relief) and Luciano and his great team of workers who made us feel really welcome – a big thank you goes out to them. I can’t wait to sit in the new restaurant in winter and admire the power of the swell!

The wind was getting fresher and the swell was building.

Day 3

Woke up to the sound of crashing waves and a fresh breeze. There was no way it was going to happen.

My good friend Dag from Norway came to join me as he was walking the north while I paddled around. We chatted to Luciano and a couple of the staff and their advice was that I actually go look at what I am going to try paddle.

Dag and I walked up the slope of Monte Leste to try and get a bigger picture. I wish we hadn’t, the big picture was nasty. The wind was doing at least 25 – 30 knots and we could make out current lines all over the place. With the heat up north a lot of thermal wind is created and it certainly has a micro climate of its own. It was hot, really hot and the conditions were starting to play mind games with me. It was time to chill, rest up and eat more than I have eaten in months.

Great night’s sleep with awesome stars.

Day 4

We awoke to exactly the same conditions and made the decision to sit for another day.

Emma, Karen and Duncan (local friends) came up with breakfast which was fantastic. Thanks guys. That evening we had a wonderful gathering and everyone hit the road. Cheryl, Laura, Marie and Linda (the girls and my support team) came up and we had a wonderful BBQ. A few beers later and it was time for everyone to get back to Santa Maria.

Another beautiful night sky.

Day 5

circumnavigation of sal island on a stand up paddle board

Woke really early and went and had a good look at the conditions. It was on. I could not launch at Buracona due to some serious swell so I went back around the corner and jumped off the cliff. We had all planned to meet up on the northern tip Fiura.

Dag was walking with his dog and Laura was meeting Marie and driving around. I was a little nervous about the weather and was just hoping the wind would stay down for a few hours. I was so happy just to be back on the water, I had not paddled for 2 full days.

The landscape from the ocean is stunning. The whole North West coast is surrounded by reef which makes for some pretty awesome waves. It is an amazing feeling paddling on top of the reef which in some cases is less than a metre deep. The water drops off the reef to some incredible depths and I found myself staring into the blue watching shoals of fish feeding and being eaten.

The ocean over time teaches many lessons and awareness is one of the most important. You have to be aware of your position on the reef up north, it is really important. The ocean does not form waves but is rather just a huge mass of unbroken water that moves with great speed over the reef. At one stage I stopped for a water break and found myself being swept over the reef before the water bottle had even touched my lips. The wind was up and doing about 12 knots but the current was the true test.

I made my way around what I thought was the northern tip only to find another point. I was getting confused as what I had seen from land I could now not place from the ocean. I was looking for the lighthouse but could not see it. I carried on…and on… and on. I knew I must have overshot the meeting point but there was no way I was turning back.

At the next bay I decided to paddle to shore to try and figure out where I was. I eventually realised I was staring at Monte Grande 406 metres above sea level and I was on the wrong side of the mountain. I remembered doing a calculation before the trip and figured I had about 7km to go before I reached Pedra Lume so I re-launched and had a fantastic paddle past some pretty jagged reef and cliffs. Families were out fishing and I could see their reactions to seeing a paddle board going by!

It was done, I had made the north but I knew that Dag was walking and with me overshooting the meeting point I started to worry about him. I pulled my board further up the beach and looked up the road to see Laura, Marie and Dag on the way down. Everyone was good and all in one piece. Needless to say, we had a couple of beers and a fantastic chicken BBQ.

Slept like a log!

Day 6

Forecast: Who cares!

Route: Pedra Lume to Angulo

Set off fairly early knowing I had 25 km to do. Had been told that there were a lot of sharks off the wreck but did not come across any. I paddled further down admiring the beautiful little bays and coves along the way. I stopped at one of my favourites and had a good swim.

I carried on down towards Sera Negra. The sharks were all sitting just north, I could not tell how many there were but when I looked out in front of me they were all swimming on the surface almost leading the way. I rounded the corner and saw Santa Maria.

I had been away for 6 days and the realisation that this was soon going to be over hit home. I paddled past the turtle camp and decided to hit land to relax. It was still early and I was only 8km from the end. I decided to press on and rest up at Grijinha before the final leg.

At 4 that afternoon I put the board in the water for the last time. I sat off the point for a while and gave my own personal thanks to the ocean. As I rounded Ponta Leme I noticed a 4×4 speed up and a man with a very large camera get out and start filming. I then started hearing drums. I am an African, born and bred and the sound of the drums gave me instant goose bumps.

As I came within 200 metres of the beach I started to notice the people waiting for my arrival. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect what was about to come my way. Children, beautiful children from the charity rushed up to greet me, friends were shaking my hand and all around me people were smiling. I was pulled away from the crowd and before I knew it we were doing a live radio broadcast and then a TV crew did their thing.

It was an unbelievable vibe and the support from the community was fantastic, you can all be very proud of yourselves. I will never forget that afternoon as long as I live. We had done what we set out to do but what we had achieved in the way of bringing everyone together was also incredible.

circumnavigation of sal island on a stand up paddle board

I would like to thank each and every person for sponsoring me; the money that was raised will go to such an important project.

Cheryl, Linda, Peter, Laura, Dag and especially Marie have to be mentioned. Without these people this trip would not have happened, well maybe it would have, but one thing is for sure, I would not have gained weight along the way! It is amazing knowing that we are all part of a community that cares.

I would also like to thank Maria for giving me a SUP board for my 40th birthday; little did she know the monster she was creating! Also thank you to Josh Angulo for his support, as well as Ed Angulo for designing a great board. Thank you to a great friend of mine, a lion from Zimbabwe, Muche for all the hard paddle time, next time he will be by my side.

To everyone involved thank you and well done.

Now any ideas for what next? If anyone is interested I would love to paddle around all the Islands in Cape Verde!


Castelos do Sal is supported solely through donations: money, food, clothing and educational materials are always very welcome and are distributed accordingly to the families and children in need.

To send money, here are the details you will need:

National transfers NIB: 000500000459547310197

International transfers: Swift Code (BIC) CGDI PT PL

IBAN/NIB cv64 000500000459547310197