Somewhere South

Sunday 20 – Wednesday 23 October

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.

Cabo Espichel

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.

Moody sunrise at Alvor

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.

Belem to Seixal

Friday 11 – Saturday 19 October

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 disappointed.

Making our way back to the ferry home, though, we enjoyed the change of atmosphere as the city began to slip into evening entertainment mode.


Wednesday 9 – Thursday 10 October

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 always.

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 tuk-tuks.

Lively passage to Lisbon

Monday 7 – Tuesday 8 October

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.

Sunset and safely berthed
– if not the most peaceful

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.

Bayona to Portugal – at last

Tuesday 1 – Sunday 6 October

Tile plaque in Bayona
commemorating the voyage of the Pinta,
discoverer of the New World

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 Rio Miño (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.

Breakers breaking over the sea wall

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.

Picture postcard scenes in Porto

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 to Pinhão (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.