We knew them as “Guapo,” and they swept us off our feet. Sometimes a happenstance encounter leads to the most amazing outcomes, and such was our experience upon meeting the Schurmanns, a Brazilian family on the sailboat Guapo.
They were, indeed, a truly unique family: Heloisa, Vilfredo, and their three boys, Pierre, David, and Wilhelm. We first met them in the anchorage of Parati, a picturesque colonial-era village in the vicinity of Ilha Grande. We had only been in Brazil about a month or two at that point, and this was our first venture to the island paradises near Rio. The “Guapos” had come up from their hometown of Florianopolis, much father south near the Uruguayan border, to sail around a bit during the school Easter break.
They were intrigued by us, since sailing around the world as a family was their dream, their goal. They peppered us with questions, and we traded thoughts, information, tips, and more. There was an instant bond. They gave us a lot of local knowledge about sailing around Ilha Grande, and proceeded to accompany us to another picturesque island anchorage, where we celebrated Sean’s fourth birthday, and spent Easter Sunday together. We even managed to host an Easter egg hunt on deck. They were quite serious about their goal of leaving to sail around the world, and were currently in the process of preparing for a departure possibly in a year or two. Their boys were considerably older than ours, and with three of them, that necessitated quite a bit more planning and organization on their part.
We were impressed with how dynamic and energized our newfound friends were, and by the end of our few days together, they invited us to come visit them in Florianopolis. We already had a vague intention of heading down to Buenos Aires at some point, and going to Florianopolis could possibly be a good “winter” option for a month or two while awaiting a good spring time weather window to slide into the transitory southern latitudes. We didn’t know anything about Florianopolis, nor southern Brazil, and the idea began to trot around in our heads: Maybe we just might do it!
Initial tourist visas for Brazil were valid for three months with an automatic three-month renewal. Thus it was tacitly understood that a visa was basically a six-month pass. At the end of six months, however, that was it. We would have to leave the country. Since Brazil is so big, this takes some forethought and planning, especially when on a sailboat, a slower means of transport as opposed to a car or plane. Heading down south to Florianopolis put us within easy range of Uruguay and Argentina, and this seemed like a good option. So by the end of May, 1983, three months after arriving in Rio, we set sail to explore the southern coast targeting Florianopolis and environs for the next three months, and then eventually Argentina.
By the end of May, the southern hemisphere summer was waning; fall wasn’t far off. This particular late afternoon of our departure gave us our first taste of one of the transitory “frente frios” or cold fronts that come roaring up from Antarctica. It seemed so strange to have weather patterns coming up from Antarctica. From our neck of the woods in Europe, we were always used to bad weather coming out of the north or northwest.
We had already previously sailed several times from Rio to Ilha Grande on various outings, so by this trip, we were somewhat familiar with the territory and the typical northern breeze that easily pushed us downwind. But all of a sudden this late afternoon, the breeze just stopped. The air was dead still and we were totally becalmed, the sails flapping about. Off in the southern distance a menacing black horizon approached, punctuated by lightning. Then the sky became really dark and as if in a science fiction movie, our speed indicator eerily began clicking and logging erratically at a fast speed—but we were dead in the water! We were encircled with static-like crackling noises, like overhead power lines occasionally do. We didn’t dare touch anything. Then bam!, in a 180° turn, a powerful southern wind hit us like a hammer out of nowhere, and a violent electric storm ensued. We had no choice but to go with the flow and let the wind chase us back to where we came from, literally retracing our course from Rio. It was too dangerous to try and sail against it or weather it out heaving to, because we were too close to the coast. So we rode it out for about an hour and then it was over as suddenly as it began. By now, however, night had fallen and we were nowhere near our anchorage having lost a lot of mileage while in retreat. But there was a full moon, and since we had been in the area before and were familiar with the charts, we figured it was a safe gamble to head to our anchorage under the cover of night and the bright light of the moon.
We spent the next few weeks ambling leisurely down the coast, beginning with discovering and exploring the bays of Trindade (a fishing village), a more modern Ubatuba, and other numerous quaint anchorages around Ilha Grande. Guapo had mentioned to us that they would be in the vicinity the first weekend of June, and indeed we were able to raise them on the VHF radio network, rendezvousing in an anchorage for dinner and enjoying each other’s company for a day or two. We all confirmed our itinerary for points due south agreeing to meet again very soon in Florianopolis.
There was much more to Brazil than Rio, as we discovered the sights, lore, and local characters of the serene and picturesque colonial anchorage of Ilhabela on the island of Sao Sebastiao, the more industrial harbor of Santos, and then an impromptu refuge from a storm in a charming Sao Francisco do Sul.
Come the end of June, promise kept as we set anchor in front of the Schurmann’s home, nestled on the shore of a small peaceful bay. And then, what a welcome! We didn’t know what hit us. Like a tsunami they swept us up in their arms, off our feet, took charge, and didn’t let go until four months later.
The Guapo family lived on the shore of paradise in a very modern, grand, beautiful home. They opened it—and their life—to us, without reserve. Initially they insisted we give them our laundry, and invited us for dinner and the luxurious use of a modern shower. They insisted we come back for lunch the next day, followed by their chauffeuring us into town for the official port entry formalities. Then they arranged for us to have a more permanent long-term berth (free of charge) at their nearby yacht club, only about a half hour away. They spirited us around on weekends to see the sights and had solutions to all our problems, never forgetting a detail. They found us the right addresses for parts, repair shops, or a handyman; they constantly invited us for meals, insisted we use their washing machine, spend the night, and would take us grocery shopping. Heloisa even arranged for Sean to attend preschool at the same private school her children attended, also free of charge. He quickly learned Portuguese and became our interpreter and introduced us to the most amazing word which was to become our own private catchphrase: Bagunça! Literally meaning “big mess,” the school used it to designate a regular “hora da bagunça” or the “hour of the big mess” where the kids could let loose, and do “anything goes!” It was so perfect to describe so many situations; I loved it and took ownership of this word. I even named one of our cats “Bagunça” several years later.
Guapo insisted on babysitting for us on occasion, so we could have that rare “date night”—just the two of us. Brendan wasn’t yet two years old at this point, so they also would take Sean on some weekends or for outings with their boys, and he was so pleased to be treated like a “big boy.” Brendan benefitted from some “me” time with just us.
Once berthing arrangements were made for us at the Iate Clube, we settled in, and it became our home for the next four months. We met the local characters, and we were adopted by them as well as by the club on the whole. Sean went to school with David and Wilhelm, where his presence was welcomed as an opportunity to interact with a foreigner. We worked on the boat, participated in local events, were invited to dinners, learned some Portuguese, Spanish, and the locally particular “Portognol” a fun irreverent mix of Spanish and Portuguese, borne of the close proximity to Uruguay and Argentina. Sean learned to sail a bit in an Optimist and play soccer with the locals. We learned much about Argentina and Chile from exiled expats, most notably Julio, known as El Chileno, an exiled filmmaker from Chile. He had reinvented himself as a boat repair handyman for the yacht club, gifted in canvas and sail repair work, stainless steel welding, and everything in between. His son, Alejandro, was a great companion for Sean, and they spent many an afternoon kicking around a soccer ball.
We left Florianopolis and Brazil the first of November, 1983, targeting Argentina, by way of Montevideo, Uruguay. But that wasn’t the last we saw of Guapo. We got together again briefly in Buenos Aires, as they were participating in a regatta there, and we passed by Florianopolis again several months later on our way back up to Rio. A little over a year after that, the Guapo family did set sail for their around-the-world adventure, and we met up again in French Guiana, and then two years after that we literally ran into them on a concourse of the Paris boat show!
The Guapo-Schumann family went on to accomplish great things: two sailing tours around the world with two different boats (Guapo and Aysso), books and documentaries about their exploits, and are now celebrities in Brazil as the first Brazilian family to have accomplished a circumnavigation. As I write this, they are preparing another expedition from Brazil to Asia. They are the Familia Schurmann to the world, but they will always remain “Guapo” to us. We will always remember them for their incredible generosity, friendship, and an immense spirit of “can-do.” They were, and still are for us today, superlatively “guapissimo” and a most memorable chapter in our lives.