Having topped up our water tanks, we set off for
Sines under full main and gennaker in a light breeze from the NW. As the wind filled in, it was too far behind
us to fill the gennaker, shadowed as it was by the mainsail, so Skipper furled
the foresail and we motor sailed briefly before deciding to try the genoa,
which was successful.
At 1400 we rounded Cabo Espichel in the company of
dolphins, and enjoyed a rollicking run, clocking 7.6 knots, towards Cabo de Sao
Vicente. Conditions were so good, we’d
decided to carry on sailing, and this next headland, the SW-most point of
mainland Europe, from where the famous Portuguese navigators set their bows
West into uncharted waters, was for us a left turn onto the lovely Algarve, out
of the worst of the Atlantic swell, and into serious ‘Brits abroad winter
sunshine’ territory, as we were to discover.
Skipper changed down to the staysail as the wind built
a little more, veering to NNW, and was distracted briefly from the rolly ride by
the sighting of a whale. Mindful of the
shipping lanes further to seaward of the Cape, the crew joined forces to gybe Eastwards,
and soon after the wind veered further to NNE, allowing us to harden up onto a
broad reach as the wind dropped away towards Monday morning. We actually cleared the headland at 0800, and
two hours later resorted to furling the genoa, pulling the main hard in and waking
up Trevver for the rest of the passage.
We failed to find enough space to anchor in the main
pool at Alvor, and headed back to the surprisingly sheltered bay just inside
the entrance to the lagoon. Sandy shallow
water is surrounded by green low hills and trees, and the water is clear and
blue – all very attractive. As the
afternoon thermal breeze filled in again, we were entertained by hordes of colourful
kite surfers whizzing around the shallows and anchored boats.
We enjoyed a quiet couple of days recovering from
the usual lack of sleep of a 30-hour passage, but satisfied in a job well done
and another 155 Miles under our keel.
We spent the morning of Friday 11th visiting
Belem by bicycle, while we had easy access to land. Riding West along the waterfront, we were
able to reassure ourselves that the alternative marinas were no more
comfortable than the one we’d chosen, being more open to the current and wash
from vessels plying the river. We were
impressed by the huge Memorial to the Discoveries, although we weren’t able to
identify any of the statues balanced along the decks of the stone caravel. Buskers entertained the crowds while dark-robed
ladies tried to tempt tourists to buy souvenirs. The pavements are decorated with the classic
black and white cobblestone patterns, while at the foot of the Memorial is a
beautiful ‘Mappa Mundi’ created in various colours of marble and surrounded by
a compass rose. It’s a popular place for
people to lie on for a photograph.
Across the road is the stunning Jeronimos Monastery, where
we forgot to pay homage to the tomb of Vasco da Gama as we were distracted by
learning about one of Portugal’s most influential men of history: Alexandre Herculano. A novelist, poet and historian, an
interesting exhibition explains his important contribution to liberal politics
and Romanticism in the mid-nineteenth Century.
We’d already decided we couldn’t bear the constant thrum of traffic
on the huge bridge any longer. On
returning to the boat, we headed across the Rio Tagus to Seixal, a regular
dormitory town with fast and frequent ferries into the city, and a peaceful,
attractive anchorage. At low water, the
Breton habit of pêche a pied is widely practised, except
here men wade shoulder-deep into the cold water (some in wetsuits), and waggle
a curved rake into the mud to extract some kind of shellfish – we could never
quite see what shape the shells were [we later discovered they’re clams], although
they weren’t shy about coming very close to the boat. At times we feared for the security of our
anchor and chain. A bonus was to find Yndeleau
already comfortably moored here, and we enjoyed getting to know her lovely crew
over the next few days.
In between the usual necessary chores of watering the boat
and provisioning, we walked a short distance through the village to the ferry
terminal. About every half hour there’s
a cheap fast catamaran that takes foot passengers across to Lisbon, landing at
the Cais do Sodré. We strolled West
along the waterfront to the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square), the
largest in the city, inland of which is the pedestrianised Rua Augusta, where
we enjoyed a pleasant lunch in the sunshine, before finding a 28 tram on Rua Conceição to shake and rattle to the
end of the route at Campo Ourique. Although not easy to take photos along the
way, this is a pleasant way to see some of the many facets of the city. The more adventurous can find tickets that
allow you to ‘hop on, hop off’ wherever you wish to spend longer.
After a brief stretch of legs, we
found another tram back to the Praça Luís de Camões,
the main plaza of Bairro Alto.
Surrounding side streets are where the nightlife is best, and we’d read
of an opportunity to hear the local fado music, without having to be out
all night. We made our way to the venue,
but finding nobody around to book with, wandered a while, enjoying colourful
street art and eclectic shops. On our
return a less-than-welcoming front of house lady told us if we hadn’t booked we’d
have to wait to see if they could fit us in, as they had a party booked.
Fado is performed in small,
intimate bars, played on two guitars, a traditional Portuguese accompanied by a
‘normal’ acoustic guitar. Some songs are
performed by a female singer, who sometimes duets with a male. However, this particular show is a tourist
attraction, and soon a large party of Indians arrived to be seated at restaurant-style
tables. As they were not apparently
interested in the show, and certainly not in abiding by the strict rules that
one listens in silence, for us the atmosphere was spoiled and we left
Making our way back to the ferry home, though, we
enjoyed the change of atmosphere as the city began to slip into evening
Rather than rush straight into taking in the tourist sights,
our priorities on arrival in this capital city were rather more down to earth
and domestic: laundry, food shopping and watering the boat inside and out. After a stupendously unwelcoming reception in
the marina office, we dealt with the salt and empty tanks onboard, and then loaded
up the bikes with panniers full of dirty clothes. However, the docks where the marina lies are
separated from the city by train and tram lines, as well as a four lane
carriageway. Mate began to wonder whether everybody does their best to get out
of Lisbon – as fast as possible? There
is a subway, accessed by long flights of steps, with a channel for bike wheels
that is so steep as to render it almost impossible to control the descent, and
a huge effort to push a loaded cycle up at the other end. The alternative is a footbridge…with
steps. What do people of limited
mobility, in wheelchairs, or with pushchairs do? Eventually finding a crossing of all the road
and rails, we found ourselves on a pavement barely the width of one’s
shoulders, right alongside the fast traffic, at rush hour; which then petered
out to nothing. To our right was a steep
road into the city, with no pavement, and steps. Not a great first impression. You may have guessed by now, that we just
gave up and returned to the boat.
The following morning, armed with new information from
Google Maps, we found a bike lane into the city, and accidentally discovered
the Mercado da Ribera. This is a large
traditional market hall, offering a good range of fruit and veggies, fish, and
other food items. Better still, across a
second hall full of colourful florists’ stalls, we found ourselves in the Time
Out Market – a food hall of delicatessens, wine merchants and a huge array of
top notch fast food – heaven.
It would have been rude not to have lunch, and it’s as well
we did, for the afternoon was spent pushing those laden bikes up incredibly
steep streets to sit in a hot, sweaty launderette for an hour. It has to be said, though, that as launderettes
go, this one was pretty impressive, set in a vaulted, crypt-like structure of
stone arches and white walls. It was
managed by a friendly lady who spoke English, and was immaculately clean as
Coming back down the hills was equally scary, as the cobbles
are very slippery and even chunky off-road tyres don’t feel entirely
secure. Thank goodness it wasn’t
raining. Unexpectedly, we were able to
take in some impressions of the city centre, busy with tourists, trams and
After all the touristing of the past couple of days, it was
time to get back to the serious business of sailing. We set off South in the usual lack of morning
breeze, and found ourselves in the midst of a huge pod of dolphin. Some were busy feeding, while half a dozen
came and played around the boat and in the bow wave for some time. After three hours, around noon as usual, the
wind filled in, from the Northwest as forecast, and we were able to set full
main and gennaker, maintaining good speeds and trying to establish a watch
pattern for this long passage.
By 1430 the wind had increased enough that it was time to
furl the gennaker out of harm’s way, and set the genoa. Later in the afternoon we swapped the
foresails over again, until dusk when the staysail was set up for the
night. As it seems to suit us, Mate took
the first long watch of the night, and when Skipper took over the deck in the early
hours of the morning, we gybed to make the most of the now Northerly wind. Since the afternoon, we’d been within sight
of another yacht often flying a red gennaker, sailing a little closer inshore,
and we remained ‘sailing in company’ with them all the way to Lisbon. A Dutch-flagged yacht, Yndeleau’s
skipper had spotted our peculiarly un-seamanlike wobble on the AIS trail during
that gybe manoeuvre, and kindly called us to check all was well. The reassurance of knowing another yacht is
with you on a long night sail was one of many special aspects of this passage.
The night was drizzly, damp and misty, the stars obliterated
and shore lights invisible: a very dark night.
Just before 0300 we cleared the absolutely Western-most point of
mainland Europe, without fanfare nor yet another label of “finis terra”; this
one’s simply called Cabo da Roca. Around
dawn, Skipper gybed again to take us through the inshore passage between Cabo
Carvoeiro and Ilha da Berlenga, while we lost ‘sight’ (on our AIS) of Yndeleau
for a time as they followed the other two sides of the square. We were pleased to pick them up again, with
occasional real sightings through the murky misty gloom, as we drew gradually
nearer to Lisbon.
Having observed for some time breakers on an invisible
shore, at 1615 the cry of ‘Land Ahoy!’ suddenly went up: we were only two and a
half miles offshore. The sun finally
broke through and the cloud burned off, revealing an attractive coastline fragrant
with warm pine and eucalyptus. The wind
strengthened to F6, with gusts of 35 knots and a big following sea, under the
bank of fog to our stern. Our
electronics recorded our top speed to date of 11.5 knots as we surfed down a
wave. With speeds regularly around 9
knots, Mate was too busy steering to realise it was more than time to reef;
fortunately Skipper was paying attention and set about reducing the main sail
to second reef. Unfortunately the
reefing pennant (rope) caught around the batten that shapes the top edge of the
sail bag, and it tore away from the fabric by about half a metre…another job
for Mate and the trusty sewing machine.
We ended up with a very messy bag in the reefed sail, evidenced by an
otherwise excellent set of photos from our companion ship, but it served to
calm everything down to more manageable conditions, as we headed along the
Barra Norte into the Rio Tejo for the capital city.
We bid farewell to our companions, who chose to anchor in
the bay alongside Cascais marina, as we’d decided to ignore the encroaching
dusk in a bid to make a sheltered marina well up-river. Amongst a plethora of yachts and catamarans,
as well as tourist and commuter ferries, we managed to drop sails and motor
under the huge Ponte de 25 Abril suspension bridge, which has a clearance of 70
metres, and carries both road and rail traffic.
Skipper had chosen the Doca de Alcântara, one of four municipal
marinas and the one with the best shelter from the wash and tidal flow of the
river, as it is tucked behind a large commercial wharf. Finally out of the still strong wind, we gave
up on the reception pontoon and tucked into a vacant berth alongside a sturdy
pontoon. We completed 215 Miles in 35
hours: our highest average passage speed of just over six knots.
The pilot book states this marina is “a peaceful spot and
the distant hum from bridge traffic is not a problem”. Hmmm, only if one is particularly hard of
hearing: there is a constant harsh thrum from the bridge, the dock lies under
the final approach flight path into Lisbon international airport, and behind a
commercial dock busy with loading and unloading of large container vessels,
supported by a mobile crane that crashes to and fro along the dock road. The usual city noises of sirens, revellers
and traffic is but a background blur in comparison…but at least most of it
quietens down overnight.
On Tuesday morning we manoeuvred over onto an outer
hammerhead at Bayona marina, to rinse off the salt and grime of Vigo and refill
our water tanks. An unsightly heap of
someone else’s unwanted detritus greeted us on a scruffy pontoon, nobody responded
to our radio call to request permission to dock, and when we made our way up to
the marina office, nobody was on duty.
We made a quick sortie around the town to track down some provisions and
take in the sights, and when we returned to the marina, the guy in the office apparently
couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork, and said as long as we were leaving
straightaway there was no charge. We
must have omitted to mention that we’d helped ourselves to water.
We were soon back and settled in the anchorage for our last
night in Spain. Mate was a little
disappointed not to have had the opportunity to explore the Islas Cies, the
fourth, final and Southernmost of the National Parks, but was comforted with
the observation that they looked a lot higher than Isla Ons, and would have
presented more challenging walking.
The following morning we were up and away at first light:
0800, and at noon ship’s time we’d reached the border with Portugal, all under
motor as there was no wind at all. The
(Spanish) or Minho (Portuguese) forms a natural frontier, and is guarded at its
mouth on the Spanish side by a very distinctive conical hill, visible for miles
once passed heading South. As the
afternoon breeze began to fill in, we were able to run under the gennaker,
until the wind strengthened to NW 4-5, and we continued under genoa only.
As the city skyline gradually clarified in the afternoon
haze, at teatime we were five miles from Póvoa de Varzim (pronounced
something like Povwad Varzim), and we gybed to make the entrance, before
furling the foresail and motoring around the Western breakwater and into the
harbour. We dropped anchor as indicated
by the pilot book, between the fishing harbour and the marina pontoons, having
sailed 54 Miles in around eleven hours.
That evening we adjusted the ship’s clock to Portuguese time,
back an hour and corresponding with UK hours.
The following day we felt an unpleasant grating as we
touched an uncharted rock at Low Water, so we reanchored before going ashore to
explore. Entering the marina office to
register our arrival, which we’d been led to believe must be done immediately on
making landfall, we were advised that “the books are wrong” and yachts are NOT
allowed to anchor in most Portuguese harbours, except with special permission
from the relevant authorities. We
apologised, and arranged to move into an assigned berth in the marina on our
return from town later in the afternoon.
Having looked at the proposed berth, we weren’t enthusiastic
about moving as boats already tied up were lurching and snatching at their
lines, while l’Escale was lying calm and stable in the harbour. When we returned, it was approaching High
Water, it was Springs (highest and lowest tides in the bi-monthly cycle), and a
large swell was running – straight at the harbour wall, and crashing over the
top to pour into the marina, causing even more and violent movement. One of the pontoon fingers had collapsed,
with a yacht still attached to it, and staff were doing their best to mitigate
damage. They were quite happy to allow
us to stay in the harbour, and the marina manager later confirmed that he’d
received authorisation from the maritime police that we could remain there.
The French skipper of yacht Millennium that we’d met in A Coruña had recommended a selection of stops, and especially Póvoa de Varzim as a cheaper alternative to Porto, reachable by metro in an hour. As it turned out, it was a free stopover, and we enjoyed visiting the beautiful old town of Porto at the mouth of the River Douro, home of port wine. The mini self-guided walking tour of Porto that Mate put together from information on the Internet is on the ‘Tourist Tracks’ page.
On Sunday we made an early start to take the metro down to
Porto again, this time to catch a train for a two-hour ride up the Douro valley
(say Pinyow as in owl), where we enjoyed an alfresco lunch on a vine-shaded
terrace overlooking the river, before meeting a traditional rabelo boat for a
two-hour cruise up to the Tao dam and back.
The sun shone, Mate spotted a kingfisher racing along the riverbank and
the scenery was stunning. A fitting, if
delayed, celebration of our wedding anniversary.