Sailing in Rio de Janeiro
A gust of tropical wind fills the sails and propels us out of Guanabara Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean. On the starboard side lies iconic Sugarloaf Mountain, where tourists line up by the thousands to take the cable car to the summit for a view of Rio de Janeiro from 1300 feet above. Down here at sea level, there are just four of us in the 39.5 foot sailboat Kamehameha, and we’ve happily traded aerial panorama for aquatic peace today as we make headway along idyllic Praia Vermelha and out towards open sea.
Sailing past one of the many islets that dot the entrance to the bay, we continue south until we are adjacent to the world’s most famous beach: Copacabana, with the open arms of the Cristo Redentor statue embracing the city atop Corcovado mountain in the background.
“This was a great idea,” I credit Mark, my brother and traveling companion on this journey through Brazil. I had proposed we use this last day in Rio to hike up through the Favela Vidigal to the top of Morro Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers Hill), but Mark had suggested sailing, and taking in the view of Dois Irmãos and Rio’s other iconic rock formations from a private yacht in the Atlantic has turned out to be the perfect exclamation point to mark the end of an exciting stay in Rio.
The sounds of the previous days’ traffic-battling city tours, raucous samba clubs and afro-Brazilian drums circles now give way to those of sea birds and ocean spray as our captain Cassio expertly navigates his yacht around one of the islets of the Cagarras Archipelago and back toward the bay.
Cassio, a Rio native and former finance executive who traded his desk in a corporate office for his seat at the helm of the Kamehameha back in 2008, steers us across Guanabara Bay to the town of Niterói, sharing stories along the way in perfect queen’s English. He waves to some locals on the shore at Jurujuba Beach, which remains a sleepy fishing village despite being located just across the bay from one of South America’s most vibrant coastal metropolises.
We could stop here for lunch, Cassio explains, or anchor in Niterói and visit the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, one of famed Brazilan architect Oscar Niemeyer’s unique circular buildings, which stands out prominently on the shore, and would be just a 10 minute drive from the dock. Unfortunately, this time around we won’t have time to go ashore in Niterói, as we have a flight to the Amazon later in the day and our precious time in Rio is drawing to a close. For today, the boat ride itself is the destination.
A frigate bird follows us back across the bay to the yacht club, O Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro, in the exclusive Urca neighborhood, and the scene is so idyllic that it is hard to believe that this is the same Guanabara Bay that got so much bad press for its pollution in the leadup to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
We ask Cassio about the pollution and he does not make light of the situation, explaining that, especially after heavy rains, all kinds of garbage can be found floating throughout the bay, and government promises to treat more of the waste water that runs into the bay have gone unfulfilled.
However, we are fortunate to be sailing out of the yacht club in Urca, right near the mouth of the bay and the cleaner water that comes in from the Atlantic, and not out of the Marina Da Gloria, the venue of the Rio Olympic’s sailing events, deeper in the bay and closer to the city’s downtown pollution.
The issue of ocean pollution around Rio is serious, but for what it is worth, on this particular outing, we’ve seen no floating garbage and had no issues with unpleasant smells or sights. Swimming in Guanabara Bay would not be advisable, but taking a day to sail across it and out into the Atlantic, taking in views of Rio in all its glory from atop the rolling waves, certainly is.