Sunday, 21 August 2016


We had been looking forward to Lagos.  This is a spot where many sailors winter-over and we have friends from Brittany who love this spot.  It is beautiful and the weather is perfectly hot and dry, the water is turquoise.  After our overly-physical departure from the Sagres Ensenada in the morning, we pulled into Lagos thinking the worst of our day was over (see previous post).  We were wrong.

The beautiful Algarve coast around Lagos.
The long welcome dock was full and we had to raft up next to another boat.  We missed the approach on the first attempt because the wind shoved us too fast and at a bad angle into the other boat and we had to rapidly put the boat in reverse to keep from doing damage.  Once in reverse, the wind and currents took us on a bizarre ride and threatened to push us over to the rocks on the other side of the narrow channel.  We finally got control of the situation and made a gentler approach, tied up, and checked in at the marina. 

Patrick requested a spot with good internet reception.  He still hasn’t learned.  This almost always means going deep into the finger berths and getting into a spot meant for smaller boats near the dock entrance.  I’m going to start announcing to marinas “we are an 11-meter boat AND WE DO NOT HAVE A BOW THRUSTER !!”  Our first arrival was just perfect, except that we were in the wrong spot.  We were in a spot for the many tourist boats that take people to visit the grottos.  We had to move.  The wind was 15 knots from ahead.  Patrick asked the marina for assistance to get into the slot next to us because it was a tight squeeze to back the boat out, and with stiff cross-winds, we worried about our maneuverability.  Two guys from the marina came out and expected that all they would have to do is shove us off and take our lines in the new spot.  Patrick backed the boat out and the wind immediately took the nose and pushed her over onto the boats on the other pontoon faster than we could react.  Once pinned against the other boats, their anchors scraping on our hull, there’s not much we could do.  People came running from everywhere, yelling, screaming, pushing, shoving, yanking.  We got Mareda off the line of boats and once into the middle of the fairway, the wind shoved her right back before we could even slam the motor into gear.  One guy asked if our bow thruster was broken.  Finally, one of the smaller tourist rib boats came out and took our lines and towed us free, and once Mareda was properly lined up and the motor engaged, we managed to pull into the assigned spot.  The hundreds of on-lookers from the terrace restaurants cheered.  We were traumatized and mortified.

In the end, there was no damage to the other boats, our gelcoat had a few superficial scratches, and the iroko-wood rub rail has a big gash in it, but it could have been much worse.  We hung our heads low and tried to make ourselves invisible for the rest of the day.

Our efforts were not even rewarded.  The internet was crap, the showers were cold, and we got blasted by “Karaoke night” from the bar next door.  For this, we’re paying 47 euros a night – the most expensive port so far.  We were so looking forward to visiting Lagos and now we can only think of how to slink out of here as soon as the winds calm down.  Yes, yes, I know: “Get over yourselves.  You’re not the first to screw up a maneuver; it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time.”  Easier said than done.  

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Cape St. Vincent and Sagres

This Cape at the southwestern tip of Portugal once marked the end of the known world and was the point of departure for explorations of discovery.  It has a bad reputation for wind and waves, exposed to the full force of the Atlantic and a confused meeting of the waters as you turn east towards the Mediterranean.  From Oeiras, we made the typical pilgrimage, traveling 50 miles down to Sines and then 60 miles around the Cape.  From Oeiras to Sines, we motored half the day and finished with 20 knots (typical) and from Sines to Cape St Vincent, we motor-sailed about 50 of the 60 miles, making it a safe and boring trip.  As we neared the cape, the wind picked up to 19 knots and we were on a beam reach with full sail.  As we only had a few miles to cover before pulling into the protected Sagres harbor, we just let out the sails with the gusts and rolled up the genoa just as things got difficult.

Helmsman Patrick making a wide turn around the Cape St. Vincent, Portugal.
After dropping the anchor, we duly congratulated ourselves and celebrated with a little bubbly (okay, it was beer, but there were bubbles-a-plenty).  We sailed our boat around the Iberian Peninsula!  It may be small potatoes for some, but it’s a major accomplishment for us.  Some sailors we talked to before leaving said they wouldn’t sail around this area because of its rough reputation.  One couple we met en-route got scared during a difficult passage and turned around to head back north.  We’ve been very lucky (and cautious) with the weather so far and it has paid off.  The most important thing is to not have a calendar and to not be in a hurry.  As the old saying goes, “sailors with no calendar always have good weather.”  I hope we can keep living up to this motto.

Mareda nestled into the protected Sagres Ensenada.
Sagres is the village established by Henry the Navigator to repair and supply ships destined for discovery.  History marks it as the site of a famous school of navigation, but our nautical guidebook says the existence of the school is an unsubstantiated myth.  The harbor is breathtakingly beautiful and is a wonderful first stop in the Algarve.  It’s everything we expected from the Algarve and the Mediterranean: cream-colored cliffs, turquoise water, sandy beaches.  We spent a quiet night at anchor and although the weather was supposed to turn blustery, we decided to spend another day and night in the harbor. 

French flag over the Sagres Fort and supposed navigation school of Henri the Navigator.
We took a few precautions to lie comfortably in the 20 – 30 knots winds forecast for the evening.  We moved closer to the beach to be more sheltered by the cliffs, dug the anchor into the sand and increased the scope to 5:1 (at high water, meaning that it’s about 6:1 most of the time).  With gusts roaring down from the cliffs, we also decided it was a good time to test my riding sail to keep the boat pointed into the wind and avoid the windshield-wiper swinging effect that strains the chain and makes for an uncomfortable ride.  We are pleased to announce that it was easy to install, and based on our motion compared to those of our neighbors around us, it seems to be working like a charm.  We still get a little bit of swing but the sail kicks in and pushes the tail back in line with the wind before the chain gets strained.  With my plastic shackles, it doesn’t make noise on the backstay as it tacks from side to side. 

The birth of the riding sail from Spray's old mainsail.  Posted this photo on 22 May on the Facebook page as I calculated dimensions and cut the sail.
My riding sail doing its job in the Sagres Ensenada.
The next morning, the gusts had died to around 10-15 knots and we were ready to head to Lagos, a short 16 miles east.  As soon as we hauled up the anchor and motored 100 meters back from the protecting cliffs, the wind started screeching through the mast.  27 knots !  We hoisted the sail with 2 reefs and tried to convince ourselves that it was just a local effect around the headland and that things would be different once we got out of the bay.  They were different.  We had 31 knots outside the bay.  The sea was choppy but with no swell and we were on a beam reach.  We put Mareda on the correct heading and eased the sail out to minimize the heel.  We were doing 6 knots with only the mainsail double-reefed.  After half an hour, things died down to a more comfortable 23 knots and we rolled out a handkerchief-sized patch of genoa.  As we progressed east, we could see dark clouds over the cliffs that came to a sudden end about 5 miles ahead.  When we got near this cloud break, the winds dropped from 23 knots to 6 within a span of 15 minutes.  We rolled out the rest of the genoa and proceed on to Lagos, shaken and perplexed but glad that it was over. 

Looking back at our nautical guides, we now believe what they say:  the effects around big headlands like Cape St Vincent can extend for 5 miles.  When you look at the grib files for the area (meteorological maps), you see very high winds around the Cape and light winds east of there.  Lesson learned: watch out for those headlands and give them a wide berth.
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2016 | Categories:

Monday, 8 August 2016

Oeiras and Lisbon

Note: we are currently in Albufeira, Portugal, a stone's throw away from Faro.  We hope to make it into the estuary of Faro tomorrow and enjoy a little down-time.  I am about 3 blog posts behind because internet is difficult to come by here. I try to give more timely updates on the Facebook page, but the details will have to wait.  Cheers, friends.

The Oeiras marina is only 5 miles away from Cascais but worlds apart in terms of attitude.  It’s a small marina that requires tight manoeuvers, and a reservation ahead of time is a good idea.  But the marina staff are almost excessively friendly and the price is unbelievable:  for a 7-night stay, the price averages out to about 26 euros a night, compared with 44 Euros in Cascais.  The transportation to Lisbon is a simple 15-minute walk to the train station and a 20-minute ride into Lisbon, which deposits you in the center of town.  The marina has a few restaurants around it as well as a good-sized grocery store within a 10-minute walk, and visitors to the marina are given free passes to the aquatic park across the street.  There are two beautiful (crowded) beaches within walking distance, a nice bike path, and … hang on to your hats…fresh bread is delivered daily to your cockpit.  We did miss the attraction of a town like Cascais, but in terms of a base for visiting Lisbon, Oeiras is hard to beat.

Beach near Oeiras Marina

Mareda, far right, Oeiras

The whale tail, symbol of Oeiras marina
Lisbon was a bit disappointing, in fact.  It was so crowded with tourists that we gave up doing a few things we wanted to do.  We managed to squeeze in most of the “must see” places and thoroughly enjoyed the Jeronimo (St Jerome) monastery.  Truth be told, we’re getting a bit fed up with religious edifices and fortresses.  We countered this by visiting the museum of modern art in Lisbon and got a good dose of secular bewilderment.

Vasco de Gama, RIP.

Close-up, Vasco de Gama tomb.
St Jeronimo's Ceiling

Not sure what these creatures were doing... can find all sorts of surprises at St Jeronimo's.

Augusta Place, Lisbon

St Juste elevator, to get to the Bairro Alto area of Lisbon without hiking up those hills.

Posted on Monday, August 08, 2016 | Categories:

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Cascais and Sintra

The sail from Berlengas to Cascais was typical, trying to make the most of every puff of wind to maintain our speed, followed by 25 knots (with full sail) during the last hour into the harbor.  For a 50-mile journey, we only motored for 1 hour and maintained 5 knots, so we won’t complain (but those blustery arrivals need to stop!)

Cascais waterfront: superb houses and apartments, a commercial fishing dock, and crowded beach.

Not sure if St. Tropez has as much commercial fishing activity around the main beach.
Cascais has been called the St. Tropez of Portugal, and we’d been warned that the marina was outrageously expensive.  But having spent the last few weeks in modest marinas, we decided to splurge for one night before heading on up the river towards Lisbon. Our experience went something like this:

Marina Staff: “ … and the cost for you boat will be 36 euros per night.”
Us to each other: “wow, that’s not too bad… I was expecting much worse. Let’s stay 2 nights!”
Marina Staff: “… but now I have to add a 23% tax, which brings your total to 44 euros per night.”
Us: “er, um, we’ll be staying one night.”

Later that afternoon:
“This is really a rip-off.  The marina is large and quiet (no other fools around to fill the marina) but the showers aren’t that great and the internet sucks.  But we’re both tired and we’ve been pushing for the last month.  We’ll just stay 2 nights and then move on.”

Walking around town:
“Wow, this is really charming.  Look at all the little streets and arts / crafts shops!” 

Later the next day:
“What a market!  This is the best farmers’ market I’ve seen since we left France.  So much produce, fish, meat, cheese…and all top quality! WOW!!  Paradise!”  

After the market, sipping sangria in the market square:
“You know, we really are tired.  Maybe we should stay another day.”

Having coffee with a french couple now settled in Cascais:
“Oh, you must visit Sintra.”
Us: “We will.”  To each other: “Okay, one more day.”

After coming home from Sintra:
“We can’t possibly leave tomorrow.  We’re pooped and the tide to get into Oeiras means we have to sit out at anchor for 2 hours.  Let’s stay one more day.

And that is how a 1-night stay turns into 4.

Sintra was … interesting. We visited on a Sunday, which one such evidently never do.  The roads were so crowded that the buses were late running their usual tourist hop-on/hop-off circuit and planning anything was impossible.  We went from the train station to a bus to get up to the top of the Moor’s Castle.  This was the highlight of our trip.  Lazy photo-journalist confession time again -  you can look up the history of this area if you’re interested.  Next we walked up to the Pena Palace, which was so kitsch and over-restored that it felt like a Disney exhibit.  We hopped back on the bus for a descent into town, walked around a bit, and waited for a bus that never materialized to take us to the train station.  In all, we spent most of a very hot day riding buses and trains.  It’s hard to imagine what Byron saw in the place.  Sometimes heavy-handed restoration and being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site can ruin a place.

Moor's Castle, Sintra, half-way up...

Pena Palace from Moor's Castle

Pena Palace, not Disney land.

Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2016 | Categories:

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Nazare, Berlengas, and a Predicament

The trip from Fig da Foz to Nazare was disappointing as the expected 12 knots of wind never materialized and we ended up motoring most of the day.  (Like a friend jokes: “everyone talks about apparent wind… I’ve been sailing for over 30 years and I’ve never seen it…”) 

The Club Naval of Nazare has a nice marina although the shore-side facilities are very basic.  A 15-minute walk into town brings you to a lively fishing port that has turned into a summer resort area.  Not only has Nazare not forgotten its traditional fishing past, it has integrated it into modern tourism.  (See photos… very surprising!)

Nazare Beach

Widow selling dried fish and octopus (to whom and for what remains a mystery...)

Yum !

The last traditional fishing boat to work the area.  Tall noses means big swell.

Nazare ladies knitting and renting out their apartments to tourists.

Fish drying in the sun on Nazare beach.

Just can't imagine what one does with dried octopus...

We stayed in Nazare just long enough to rest and resupply and then headed down to the Ilas Berlengas, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a supposedly excellent mooring to avoid the dreaded Peniche marina further down the coast.

We put up the main and the genoa for the short sail to the islands and when the speed fell below 3 knots, we fired up the Yanmar.  A moment of inattention (adjusting the solar panels) led to disaster.  I was down below writing in the log and I heard a clunk against the hull.  A few seconds later, I heard a panicky “Merde !” from on deck. 

I jumped out onto the cockpit and saw a fishing pot being towed behind the boat.  We quickly put the motor into neutral and rolled up the genoa, then let loose the mainsail to stop the boat.  For the next 10 minutes, we tried everything we could to push the line off our port-side rudder, even breaking our beloved “moor fast” boat hook.  I was getting ready to dive into the water to pull it off manually (stupid, stupid idea…), when it dawned on us that we should just cut the bloody line.  I know it’s not nice for the fisherman, but I wasn’t going to take any unnecessary risks.  The line cut easily, but was under too much tension to hold and tie to the floater with the flag on it, so we just let it all go.  We noted our position with the GPS and emailed Nazare marina with the details.  In France, the fishermen sometimes request payment for such damages.  So far, no news.

We quickly forgot our worries as we realized the boat was fine and a pod of dolphins came out to play.  That just never gets old, no matter how many times you see it.

Dolphin escort to the Ilas Berlengas

Berlengas was beautiful but disappointing.  The nautical guide said we could drop the anchor in 7 meters of water.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a field of mooring buoys for local fishermen and tourist boats.  A traffic zone had been defined between this mooring field and the coast, and there was no possibility to anchor in less than 15 meters of water (safe mooring means putting out a length of chain equal to 3 or 4 times the depth).  We only have 40 meters of chain so we did what we could, knowing we would stay on the boat (and I would stay nervously in the cockpit most of the afternoon).  We realized we couldn’t stay the night like that, and I finally hailed a local tourist boat and asked if we could use one of the mooring buoys for the night.  He pointed out 3 buoys that were appropriate for larger boats like ours and said we could tie up from 6:30 p.m. to 9 a.m.  Other boats evidently knew this as well and by the time 6:30 rolled around there was only one mooring buoy left and it was rather exposed.  We spent a very lumpy, rolly night at anchor and left earlier than planned for the long hop down the coast to Cascais.

Panoramic shot of Berlengas ... click to expand.

Homework in paradise, planning tomorrow's sail...
And now we are in beautiful Cascais (one guide book calls it the St Tropez of Portugal!), and looking at the calendar to see how to organize our time in the Lisbon area.  If weather is no limitation, we should be in good shape for making it to the Algarve by the beginning of August, our self-imposed-for-no-real-reason schedule.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Figueira da Foz and Coimbra

The anchorage in Sao Jacinto / Aveiro was calm, which we later learned was lucky for us, as friends who arrived the day after us complained of noise from the local disco.  It’s clear that this is not a river to be entered in anything but calm to moderate conditions, and a few days later when the fog rolled in, we heard a navigational warning that Aveiro was closed.  We left with moderate northerly winds and flew the genakker for several hours until the wind strengthened to 19 knots.  Curiously, with the full main and the genakker, we were only doing about 5.5 knots of real speed over the water.  I suppose we may have been blocking the genakker too much with the main and probably should have poled it out, but it stayed full so I never thought it was a problem.  Normally we roll up it up when the winds get up to about 15, but as we were sailing downwind, we really didn’t feel that much “stress” on the sails or the rigging.  When we went to roll it up, it whipped around like mad even though we tried to shelter it behind the mainsail. We still have a bit to learn about our dear genakker. 

We finished with 25 knots and flat seas as we rounded up into Figueira da Foz, a nice town and marina (although the visitors’ docks are beginning to be rotten and somewhat dangerous.)  Fig da Foz has a wonderful covered market just across from the marina and we loaded up with fresh fish, meat, fruits and veggies, and were even treated to a 10-minute show by a Korean dance troop visiting the area.  We can’t say we really saw much of Fig da Foz since our interest in going there was to use it as a staging ground to visit Coimbra.

Coimbra skyline.
The city of Coimbra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the scene of Muslim and Christian clashes from the late 800s onward, a roman stronghold, the first capital of the Portuguese monarchy, and the site of one of the oldest universities in the world.  The thing we wanted to visit most, the library, was amazing…and taking photos was forbidden.  You’ll have to take our word for it and look it up on the internet.  Interesting fun facts: it was designed to maintain a constant temperature of 18-20 C, no small fete in the Portuguese summer.  The walls are 2 meters thick, the door is made of teak wood, and the interior is made of massive oak, both good for resisting humidity and for giving off an odor that insects don’t like.  An added measure to keep down the insect population was to cultivate a small colony of bats that live inside the library.  (Nope, didn’t see them or their droppings…). 

University of Coimbra Library entrance.

Entrance to University square.

University Palace and Tower.

Chapel, tower, and palace.
Wandering through the old town, you become quickly overwhelmed by the number of cathedrals, stone arches, and winding cobblestone streets.  All of the cathedrals and religious monuments start to blend together in your mind and we began to get a bit saturated.  I took numerous photos of various religious sites only to realize later that, without any sort of context, they become pretty meaningless.  But I’ll just throw up a bunch of photos here and you can experience it the way I did…no context !

Baptismal font, St Mary's.  Dead guy in the background...

Giant clam shell from the Portuguese Indian Ocean expeditions used for holy water.

Rest break in St. Mary's cloister.

St Mary's, founded 1139.

Organ, University of Coimbra Chapel.

Ceiling, painting on wood, University of Coimbra Palace.

University of Coimbra Palace hall.

View of UC palace tiles from the tower.

We left the next day for a 35 mile hop down the coast to the fishing town of Nazare, then to the Berlengas Islands, and then to Cascais.  I’m a wee bit behind in blogging.  Will post as soon as time and connection permit.  Tomorrow we’re off to visit Sintra and then we’ll move up the river a bit to a cheaper marina for a few days in Lisbon.  Stay tuned !
Posted on Saturday, July 23, 2016 | Categories: ,