We will sure be glad to get to Manaus for a break.
From before dawn until after dark motoring against a strong
current requires constant vigilance - particularly as we have found
the charts to be so incorrect.
The drifting logs, branches, rafts of weed, planks and other
debris are on the increase, so we are having to constantly weave
Right now we are less than 100 metres from the river bank - in
50 metres of water, making a speed of 10 knots through the water -
but advancing at less than 6.
Fortunately the worst of the heat of the day is easing away - it
was impossible to walk on the decks between noon and 2pm without
I am having a breather today, so the Log comes from Don
Robertson and John Morgan.
A little milk in your coffee?
There is an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. However, when
they put milk with it, does it take on the colour of the Rio
Amazon? Alfred Russel Wallace, a nineteenth century naturalist
seemed to think so.
Wallace classified the rivers of the Amazon according to
their colour, which also helped define the source of the river,
silt content and fish life.
Rivers were either:
Whitewater, as in the Amazon river where we are currently,
Clearwater, such as the Rio Tapajos, where we have just been
Blackwater, like the Rio Negro where we are headed.
Whitewater rivers such as the Amazon are not rivers of
boiling rapids that we may imagine, but are muddy or a murky
yellow-brown. To describe them as caf-au-lait coloured, as some
books do, is enough to have you send the coffee back and ask for
However black tea is the description of the colour of
blackwater rivers such as the Rio Negro where Manaus is situated.
Our next destination.
The Rio Negro is the biggest tributary of the Amazon, the
fourth largest river in the world and is 1400 miles long. We intend
to travel many miles up the Rio Negro, perhaps 600 miles if river
depth permits, to drop-off our jungle team.
600 miles is a lot of black tea.
At Santarem we left the Amazon and travelled up the Rio
Tapajos, defined as a cleblack tea here are a few basics:
1. With the headwaters of the rivers in the Andes,
erosion supplies the large amount of sediments found in the
2. Nearly neutral pH (7.0) i.e. neither acid nor
3. Relatively high electrical conductivity - a good
general indicator of the amount of minerals and nutrients found in
4. High concentration of microbes and inorganic
5. When the rivers flood each year they renew soil
fertility, replenish dried out swamps and bring new life to the
6. The characteristic flora & forests flooded by
these rivers is called verzea.
1. Carry light sediment loads - have less silt and
humus because all the moveable material was eroded long
2. The rivers have relatively poor nutrient levels as
they drain from highly weathered and ancient geological
3. Vary from acidic to nearly alkaline (pH 4.5 to
4. Low levels of humic matter - 1/10th of that of
5. Electrical conductivity rarely exceeds 6.0
6. While called clear water they cannot be classified
as crystalline as visibility is only 3 to 4 meters at
best.arwater river (see logs 125 to 129).
There was a noticeable change in the colour of the water at
Santarem where the muddy Amazon is joined by the Tapajos. The
rivers run together at this point, half muddy, half pale blue,
before the muddy Amazon swallows up the Tapajos.
According to our information, the meeting of the waters and this
colour separation is most spectacular at Manaus where the Amazon
and the Rio Negro meet. We will have to wait and see.
What makes these rivers differ in colour?
For those of you who would like a sprinkling of facts with your
1. Minimum sediment loads but stained dark by organic
compounds originating in plant communities growing on extremely
2. Soils lack the micro-organisms to break humus,
(decaying plant matter) down into chemicals.
3. Visibility is usually less than 1 meter.
4. The colour is derived from plant compounds of
tannins, caffeines and phenols -resulting in the colour of dark
5. The acidity limits microbial activity and growth of
aquatic flora & fauna, notably mosquito larvae.
6. Flooded forests along black water rivers are called
7. Extremely poor in nutrients.
8. Acidity is usually around pH 4 to 5.
9. Heavy rain washes the humic matter into rivers
staining the water blackish or very dark brown.
What a transformation
I used to read the Blakexpeditions logs from my computer at
work (morning tea time of course) and feel truly envious of the
experience the crew were having in Antarctica. I am now onboard
Seamaster and in the Amazon. I still read the daily logs in the
evening (which Don informs me is later than when it is posted on
the web site), but in the main saloon onboard Seamaster. To Peter
and Alistair I am eternally grateful to be here.
I joined the crew at San Fernando near Buenos Aires, 3 days
before departing. I instantly felt welcome - the crew really are a
top bunch of people. We briefly stopped at the beautiful Yacht Club
Argentino in down-town Buenos Aires on our way out of the River
Out of the river and into the Atlantic, I was not sure what
my role onboard would be. I soon realised that I was not just a
guest and was made to feel like part of the expedition. Heading
towards Rio de Janeiro, we stopped at Ilha Bella (Beautiful Island)
as we were running ahead of schedule. And a beautiful island it was
- very tropical, with palm trees, beautiful beaches and lovely
4 days in Rio and off up the coast into the tropics, sailing
with the trade winds. It was amazing sailing, running and reaching
with winds averaging 25 knots for days on end. We lowered each
other into the water in a harness while sailing at 10 knots, even
some of the older crewmembers (no offence Don and Roger)
participated. I cannot wait to develop my films.
We tried several different sail combinations and I have
learnt so much about big boat sailing and passage making.
Entering the Rio Para was treacherous - sandbars and fishing
boats everywhere, something we have become used to. The atmosphere
onboard began to change, a realisation the expedition was about to
begin. We stopped at Belem, for final preparation and supplies for
the trip up to Manaus. I could not believe the supplies required
for the expedition.
The cabin fans had to be my most favoured purchase, as I was
having trouble sleeping in the heat.
Making our way up to Santarem, through the narrow waterways
that link the Rio Para to the Amazon, I got my first glimpse of
river life, with many a family or child coming out to meet us from
their homes on the river bank. One afternoon Marc, Leon, Roger and
I went in the RIB to get a closer look at a fisherman pulling in
his nets. He was friendly and invited us onboard to give him a
hand. After a minute of us pulling his net in I could see why -
extremely hard work in the heat. We pulled up various
kinds of fish, including a medium sized Peacock Bass with a
perfectly round sizable piranha bite taken out of it. I was
definitely not getting in the water.
Upon arrival at Santarem, we passed through the changing of
the waters, a definite line from the brown of the Amazon to the
welcoming swimmable blue of the Rio Tapajos. And swim I did, barely
refreshing however, as it was only a few degrees colder than the
air. From Santarem we headed further up the Rio Tapajos in search
of lakes for diving. Before each expedition ashore we were
thoroughly briefed on the dangers and knew exactly what was
required. I felt comfortable knowing that all precautions had been
taken, as there was talk of many nasties including anacondas. We
visited various lakes, enabling me to go snorkelling and paddling
in the kayaks.
The next adventure was taking the 2 inflatable dinghies,
full with gear, and 6 people in each, up a tributary on a rece'
trip. What was meant to be a 2 and a half-hour trip each way kept
extending itself, so we decided to stop when one of the dinghys
fuel supplies was getting low.
We did not make it to the waterfall, but we did stumble
across various tranquil river villages. I could not believe how
friendly the people were, shy at first, but once the initial
barriers were broken they were extremely welcoming. So far from
civilisation, yet they had churches, schools, small surgeries and
They informed us that the government is cutting their
funding and conditions are deteriorating. After a not so
long trip back to Seamaster, Ollie told us he had found a map of
the area on his computer. We had barely made it half way, even
though we had covered the distance from Auckland to Great Barrier
Island in the 4.5 metre dinghies.
It was decided to try the same route in Seamaster. Janot,
Charlie and I were in the dinghy frantically getting depth
soundings, quite stressful, as we were responsible for the route
Peter was steering. Random soundings of about 100 metres apart, I
was steering and heard Peters voice on the VHF, we have run aground
- not my most memorable moment. I sat stunned for a few seconds.
Not to worry" I was informed - the centreboards were lifted, and
she reversed right off.
We must have narrowly missed the sandbank in our soundings.
With my heart in my mouth we continued, eventually making it to
where we stopped the previous day in the dinghies.
A smaller team went up to the waterfall, which apparently
was amazing. I stayed behind, creating a mud chart with Alistair
and Charlie to ensure a safe departure. We also mingled with the
locals. Charlie and I swapped places with 2 local village people
and attempted to sail their Bongo home. After much amusement
(mostly on their behalf) we finally made it. You would not believe
how unstable the Bongos are, and children as young as 3 make it
look simple. We are now 2 days away from Manaus, my final
destination for this expedition. I came into this trip with no
expectations but will be leaving feeling truly gratified for what I
have seen, been part of and the friends I have made. The Amazon has
been a real eye opener - its shear size, power and beauty are awe
inspiring. It is such a shame to see it treated the way it
The real adventure starts for Blakexpeditions after Manaus
and it is back to my office and my envious log readings during
Best wishes to Peter and the crew for the rest of the
It's now 4pm - 2 more hours and we will need to anchor for the
night. Almost 12 hours of dark and 12 hours of daylight here near
the equator - in all months of the year.
We keep Seamaster well lit all night - for safety reasons. But
the lights attract some varieties of insects - en mass. Hopefully
we won't have a repeat of the clean-up operation that we had this
All the best from the Seamaster crew.