Final passage of the year

Friday 8 – Saturday 9 November

With ship’s time now back in sync with local, we left Cádiz after lunch, under a clear sky and in a cold wind of around F4-5 from the NW quadrant.  We set a prudent second reef in the mainsail with the staysail to balance, making steady progress to the Southeast.  At 2100 we were just South of Cabo Trafalgar, the site of the famous sea battle where Admiral Horatio Nelson’s British Royal Navy convincingly trounced Napoleon’s combined Spanish and French fleet.  It also gives its name to the Southernmost of the sea areas for the UK shipping forecasts.  It has to be said, for somewhere so important, it is somewhat unremarkable, as the land on which the 34-metre-high lighthouse was erected in 1860 stands only 17 metres above sea level.  Nevertheless, across the dark seas, the land lights of Morocco, the Northern coast of the great continent of Africa, were clearly to be seen, with Spain lying quietly off our port, and around 3000 Miles of the Atlantic Westwards to America.

At midnight the log records “lovely sailing; in sight of Tarifa light”.  Indeed, it is the lighthouses that punctuate coastal night passages, encouraging us ever on our way.  As usual, conditions did not remain constant for long; by 0200 the wind was down to a mere F2-3, and we were in sloppy seas, but at least the strong current was carrying us in the right direction.

Gibraltar at dawn

Now, you may recall from the previous blog that we prefer to arrive in daylight; so it was just as well the lighter wind was slowing our progress, but nonetheless we were well into the Straits of Gibraltar by 0400: us and half the shipping of the known world, it seemed.  As ever, Skipper piloted us manfully and safely to shore-ward of the main shipping lanes, and we wove our uncertain way around a plethora of anchored vessels in Gibraltar Bay, all lit up like the proverbial Blackpool, and into a safe anchorage just North of the prohibited area at the end of the runway North of the Rock, to await daylight for our final approach.

The other reason for the stop was that our chosen marina, Queensway Quay, has a boom set across the entrance overnight to limit swell and debris entering the marina.  After breakfast and a cursory tidy-up, we were able to radio the marina office and make a safe entrance into our allotted berth, where we shall lie safe and sheltered at the foot of the Rock, until the New Year.

To Cádiz

Sunday 3 – Monday 4 November

At this time of year, it is important for us, when planning a passage of more Miles than can be sailed in daylight, to try to ensure that we arrive while it is light.  When everything is going to be new and unfamiliar, our least favourite landfalls are during the night, when important navigation lights can be buried amongst lights from land, and hazards and the ‘hard stuff’ are much less visible.  Having said that, night passages – being out at sea in the dark – are often a wonderful experience.  Whatever phase of the moon, in clear skies its rise and set, and the canopy of stars slowly revolving across the heavens, never fail to delight.

And so it was that we set off from the Southern coast of Portugal at tea time, bound for another border and another country.  As usual, we kept ourselves busy with various combinations of sails, starting with just the genoa, and around dusk changing to full main and staysail in a steady Westerly breeze of F4-5 on a slight sea.  Around midnight, the moon set and the sky became cloudy, making it very dark, but this is when phosphorescence is most visible: tiny plankton, disturbed by our hull sliding through the water, glow momentarily in a constant sparkle trailing behind our stern – ethereal and beautiful.

In the early hours of the morning, we were called by American warship William McLean, asking us to change course to keep our distance from their patrol course – a little unnecessary, we felt, as we were sailing, less manoeuvrable than their powerful motor vessel, and had to perform a gybe to meet their ‘request’.  We had to gybe several more times to regain our proper course.  Once daylight was properly established, we changed up from staysail back to genoa, gaining 0.5 knot speed.  As we crossed the notional border line into Spain, we changed the courtesy flag.

We maintained ship’s time during the passage, in spite of actually losing an hour as we left Portuguese waters, and mid-morning, Mate had to make an unwelcome decision to steer to port to avoid an unscheduled close acquaintance with another yacht.  ColRegs (the rules of the sea to which every vessel must adhere to avoid collisions) clearly state that vessels on a potential collision course must both turn to starboard.  A red-hulled Russian-flagged yacht was approaching our port bow on a starboard reach (wind from the right, onto the middle of the boat), and we were also on a starboard tack, with the wind further behind us.  Technically correctly, he held his course as we were the ‘windward’ boat (nearer the wind), but he forced us into a near gybe, as we moved further away from the wind by having to turn to port, and added insult to injury by tacking to starboard immediately he cleared our bow – and giving a cheery wave as he did so.  Grrrrr.

Porto America marina; backdrop a departing cruise ship. The trees say it’s definitely Autumn

Nevertheless, we arrived safely in Porto America in Cádiz, Andalucia, in time for a late lunch, having sailed 96 Miles in a little less than 21 hours.  [When afore-mentioned red Russian yacht later berthed a few slots from us, an unusual lack of welcome was expressed from l’escale].

Holiday on the Algarve

Thursday 24 October – Saturday 2 November

Actually, our second, as we came to an apartment with a pool, via a flight from the UK and a rented car, for a week in June with two small children, about 20 years ago.  We can’t actually remember exactly where we came, beyond that we flew into Faro, but it all looks different from the sea anyway – the resort development is glaringly obvious, but from out on the water it’s peaceful and appealing.

Refreshed after a couple of lazy days at anchor, we motored a few short miles across the bay (back the way we’d come – weird) to anchor off a not-so-sheltered beach just outside Lagos.  We paddled the dinghy over to the beach, and enjoyed an evening walk, via the marina office to confirm we didn’t need to register our arrival, around this popular tourist town.  Voices in many languages could be heard enjoying the sunshine, and of course it’s half term week in the UK, so there were lots of British kids around.

We found a decent-sized Intermarché for a little provisioning, and Mate indulged in a brief spot of souvenir shopping, in between perusing a selection of menus.  Sadly, little sounded tempting, being very repetitive to cater for the international visitors.

On the Friday morning we took the dinghy to explore the famous caves at Pointe de Piedade.  If you’re familiar with the rock formations at Studland Bay in Dorset, imagine them in golden sandstone and multiplied by a factor of 10, and you’ll have some impression of this amazing piece of coastline.  Constantly pounding seas have created blowholes, or chimneys, and caves amongst the stacks and arches, which are wonderful to explore in a very small boat, as you can get under low ‘ceilings’ to paddle inside the hollows.  In places light shone through underwater, and the ocean forcing its way in blew misty spray up into the cavities.  Up close it’s impossible to take photos (never mind the camera not being waterproof), so this is from the Internet:

We timed our visit well, before many trip boats were out, and the sea was calm, but the return trip was a different matter: a considerable swell had appeared from nowhere, due to a nasty weather system way out in the Atlantic, and we were tossed around with the small 2.5hp outboard struggling to propel us forwards.  We always wear lifejackets for these types of adventures, but they didn’t stop us getting very wet, and landing on the back step of the boat was not the easiest manoeuvre we’ve ever attempted.  Nevertheless, we made it back aboard safely, if in need of a little medicinal chocolate, and it was definitely worth it, to experience such incredible scenery up close and personal.

Once we’d recovered, dried out and warmed up, it was an easy decision to leave this horrible swell and head back all the way across the bay to Portimão.  Unusually, the sea was choppy with a headwind – like being back in the Solent, except the sun was still shining.  It took us nearly five hours to make seven miles upriver of Portimao marina, to a lovely quiet anchorage off Ferragudo.

On Saturday morning we had a much calmer dinghy ride to explore this attractive village, where fish are landed on the quay straight onto the barbecues for lunch.  Skipper changed the gas bottle, which ran out while supper was being prepped, and we gained another hour by changing the clocks back one hour overnight.

Ripening dates

On Sunday we dinghied the other way, across the river to Portimão town, where we found another sparkling clean launderette, and laden date palms along the promenade.  We also found a selection of attractive fish restaurants, obviously where the locals eat, just through the arches under the road behind the waterfront.  In the afternoon we moved onto the temporary pontoon in Portimão marina, to fill up with very expensive water of disappointing quality.  Whilst there we met a chap who is a good friend of the ex-sales manager of Allures, who sold us l’Escale.  We were delighted to hear his change of career is proving successful, and asked to be remembered to him.  As soon as possible, we escaped back to our spot in the anchorage, from where we enjoyed watching the storks fishing, much like herons.

We had another foray into Portimão town, to a large Pingo Doce supermarket, a common name in Portugal, but one we’d not explored before…but we weren’t overly impressed: Waitrose it isn’t.  On the way back, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge canoe/kayak race, and were mistaken for a rescue vessel by a poor lad who’d capsized just away from the start line – he wasn’t the only casualty, and the large, powerful RIBs were in demand.

Mate took the opportunity to make progress on the current sewing project, while Skipper worked through some of the outstanding jobs list.  It was still warm and sunny much of the time, with very little wind in this sheltered spot.

On the last day of October we got back to sailing, departing early in the hope of completing a 40-Mile passage to Faro in daylight.  It was a lovely day, with temperatures in the low 20s ˚C and a light Westerly wind to fill the gennaker.  Well before dark we were anchored, just behind our friends on Yndeleau once again, off the Ilha da Culatra in the large lagoon that shelters Faro and Olhão.  The entrance is interesting, with overfalls, swirls and eddies at any stage of the tide, but a little extra oomph from Trevver got us through without any difficulties into the otherwise calm and shallow waters of the various channels that wend between sandbanks and around islands.

Friday 1 November was a beautiful, sunny day, and we took the dinghy across to the fishing harbour on the Ilha da Culatra to explore this popular island – where locals and tourists escape the crowds of the mainland resorts.  It is part of the Ria Formosa national park, and for landlubbers it’s only accessible by ferry, so we arrived early enough to enjoy its peace and quiet.  There are two distinct village communities totalling around 1000 permanent inhabitants, who make their living from fishing and tourism.  Culatra is where the ferry lands, and has a selection of restaurants, while Farol, Portuguese for lighthouse, is centred around…the lighthouse, that guards the entrance to the lagoon.  Single storey dwellings are built on sand, and slabs of concrete make pathways – there are no paved roads and the only vehicles are a couple of tractors, and bicycles for the brave.

The island is about six kilometres long, between 100 and 900 metres wide and consists entirely of sand and some scrubby ground cover.  Boardwalks offer easy walking through a stunning and surprisingly varied landscape, with views of the hills of the mainland to the North, and to the South the clear blue waters of the ocean.  We saw a number of different butterflies, birds and waterfowl, and had long stretches of beaches and dunes all to ourselves.  We felt it only polite to contribute to local commerce and enjoyed a delicious lunch of local tuna, salad and a Portuguese speciality dessert, a moist cake made of carob, of which Portugal is one of the leading producers worldwide; there is a carob tree on the island.

We rounded off our holiday by going into Olhão marina on Saturday morning [contrary to the advice of the pilot book, it’s perfectly possible to phone ahead and arrange a short stay, although a German skipper we met had not been welcomed].  A member of staff was waiting to help us tie up to the outer pontoon, and we were able to visit the waterside market and fill up with water.  We also had an interesting chat with an Argentinian couple, who shared their extensive experience of over-wintering in Seville; we had thought about doing the same, and may yet on our way back out of the Mediterranean.