Sailing along the western coast of Portugal

Avian hitchhiker

24 Hours later I weighed anchor and started the 50 plus nautical mile leg north to Cascais on the outskirts of Lisbon. The sailing was in light winds on a relatively smooth sea, so generous use of my mighty 13.5hp Beta engine was necessary. Even at a consistent 5kts, it was almost dark as I approached the Rio Tejo. I really should learn to wake up earlier…

Dolphins made an occasional half-hearted visit, but this was more than compensated for by frequent social calls by exhausted avian hitchhikers.

Overall, the passage was soothingly tranquil, ignoring a brief episode of near panic when my favourite hat forced me into another impromptu “man overboard” drill. I did get it back however! As you can see in the accompanying photo, it is just the thing to compliment my sailing ninja apparel and I would be loath to lose it.

Sailing ninja apparel

I spent two nights in Cascais marina and I will happily return here (perhaps at anchor) in summer before heading toward Madeira or the Canary Islands. There are interesting little beaches, quaint winding cobblestone streets, and a multitude of bars, restaurants and cafes catering to all tastes.

I was also pleased to find the “out of hours” marina staff exceptionally helpful and professional; evidenced by the quick defusing of potential disaster as an accompanying Finnish yacht bungled repeated attempts to tie off at the reception pontoon. The incident prompted a spontaneous and amusing discussion on general marina mishaps, and having witnessed first hand what these people have to contend with on a daily basis, they have my deepest respect. Let me elaborate with an example;

Beach, Cascais Portugal

I’d noticed quite a substantial number of seagulls resting on the marina breakwater in the afternoon and a sudden cacophony of avian cries disrupted my hapless attempts at Wi-Fi prompting me to pop my head out of the companionway, I was just in time to see an enraged fisherman take out a pistol (the air gun type from the sound it made) and start shooting willy-nilly at gulls attempting their getaway with stolen fish. I’m afraid I do not have an accompanying photo captioned “enraged fisherman shoots sea birds”, but I was studiously minding my own business at this point.

Besides, dealing with this sort of thing is the business of those aforementioned, exceptionally helpful and professional marina staff. 😉

I was too tired to sample Saturday’s marina nightlife and had to content myself will meeting other cruisers “en passant” partaking in the new and ridiculously bizarre yachtsmen ritual of wandering marina grounds seeking improved signal strength for Internet Wi-Fi, laptops extended, face aglow.

Rounding Cape Saint Vincent to Western Portugal

How to tame boisterous children

Planning was high on my list of priorities as I methodically watched the weather forecasts pending departure. I did not care for a repeat performance of the previous days hair raising port entry. If I wanted to spend my free time surfing, I would have brought a Malibu board to Lagos rather than Eileen of Avoca.

As I waited for easterly winds, I busied myself with some serious relaxing at the beach occasionally burying a locals child to stop “it” running about and making a general mischief. Despite my best efforts, they continued to be a nuisance and even had the gall to find it all rather amusing. Oh well, I’ve never really been that good with kids.

Rounding Cape St. Vincent in calm weather

I’d decided the best way to tackle Cape Vincent was to leave at midday, round the cape during daylight hours and complete the total of slightly less than 80NM to Sines by night. The easterly winds dropped from force 4 to a gentle 1 and 2 overnight and while the sea maintained a significant swell, Cape Vincent came and went as an anticlimax.

Sprayed by dolphins

Dolphins escorted me for much of the journey, and their company was mostly appreciated, the exception being when a particularly cheeky individual would “sneak up” alongside Eileen and enthusiastically shock me awake with a spout of fishy smelling water. Who would have though dolphins had a sadistic sense of humour. I like them more and more each day! 😉

Aside from scaring the living daylights out of me by catching me unaware with their playful nocturnal antics, they effectively made sure I wasn’t going to catch any fish for supper.

I optimistically trolled with a brown lure (holding my newly acquired blue one in reserve), until at about midnight it was lost. to either:

a) the biggest fish I’d ever hooked (the dolphins at this point had vanished), or more likely;

b), a fisherman’ pot (even though I was at the 100m depth contour).

I’m newly resolved to fishing at night only when more than 10 miles off the coast.

At dawn I motored into the lovely little anchorage off the beach in Sines and set to work composing an opus in snore major.

Anchorage at Sines beach Portugal

Villamoura to Lagos

Surfing into port Lagos

It is approximately 30NM from Villamoura to Lagos, and I completed the leg in less than 6 hours. Winds from the east and a following sea had me sailing at a respectable 5kts and this with only the jib and a reefed mainsail set!

As the day progressed, the southeasterly swell (caused by gales in the strait of Gibraltar) intensified, and by the time I reached the relatively narrow entrance to Lagos I confess to having entertained thoughts of seeking landfall elsewhere.

Eileen of Avoca was already surfing down the faces of some of the larger sets and the sound of crashing waves against the rocky coastline west of the entrance did little to assay my growing anxiety.

At least I was not alone. Another sailing yacht followed me closely, and if I had not happened upon a brief lull between sets of larger waves, (precipitating my attempt to run to safety), I might have come about and let them try first. I’d already rationalized to myself that it would be the gentlemanly thing to do. 😉

At this point, I had the motor running at close to full throttle. With sails furled, fenders out and heart pounding, I raced for the entrance while the other yacht hesitated.

“No worries, a fine run… now let’s see if you can do the same….” flashed through my thoughts as I turned to watch the fate of my fellow sailors.

Even stray dogs appreciate the art in Lagos

With Cape Vincent as my next challenge, I decided to rest up for a while, purchase provisions and wait for fine weather. Lagos has much to offer visitors and I thoroughly enjoyed my habitual aimless perambulations about town. Now if only I could speak a little Portuguese!

Tavira to Villamoura

The red cliffs of Southern Portugal

With northeasterly winds at force 5, I made a reluctant and somewhat tardy start (12:15) to the day. Laving Tavira on a slack tide, with the intention of overnighting at another anchorage just inside the Faro / Olhao entrance, it was a rapid and pleasant sail in fine weather.

I enjoyed it so much that as I approached the light house and breakwater (after approximately 20NM), I altered course and decided to carry on to Villamoura (another 10NM to the northwest).

The southern coast of Portugal is quite dramatic. Long white sandy beaches east of Faro give way to red and yellow cliffs interspersed with forests to the west. In places I was reminded of the sandstone cliffs off Sydney. This is a spectacular coastline and contrasts greatly with the arid scrubby look of southern Spain.

Villamoura marina

My first marina stop in Portugal also left quite an impression. Arriving on the last day of the Villamoura boat show, the extensive and modern marina was a hive of activity. Pontoons were filled with a plethora of motorized “gin palaces”, (or if you prefer, “plastic fantastics”), and the bars overflowed with patrons.

It struck me as a little odd however, that sailing vessels were clearly underrepresented at this exhibition of extravagance. How can anybody prefer a boat without sails?

Isla Canela to Tavira

Tavira anchorage

My run of “bad luck” extended into the next leg of my journey as I sailed from Isla Canela in Spain to Tavira Portugal just 16 NM away.

Sailing along the 10m contour I had my fishing lure catch on a poorly marked lobster pot (just a scrap of blue foam no larger than a paperback novel with a line running to the bottom). I made valiant attempts to retrieve it, even managing to have it break free from the entanglement, but in the short swell and without a net or other means to fetch items from the water, I could not retrieve the now drifting lure.

I was devastated by the loss of my lucky blue fishing lure. Perhaps devastated is too strong a term, how about extremely annoyed, or perhaps extensively miffed? Purchased in Calabria Italy, it was this lure that had hooked me numerous tuna, two dorado and a small swordfish. Life without it might be severely lacking in fresh seafood!

Four hours later I was anchoring to the side of the marked channel west of the ferry docks in Tavira.

Being a warm sunny Saturday, large queues had formed and the ferries worked frantically returning day trippers to the mainland. It was all very amusing to watch.

My guide suggest two anchors (both tied to the bow), as the tide runs strongly here. The same guide also refers to Tavira as spectacularly unspoiled anchorage, but I’m not one to really appreciate the questionable beauty of salt marches. For me, they fall into the same category as mosquito infested swamps and bogs, but with the wind blowing at a good 20kts, it would take one tough mosquito to verify the validity of my insect laden prejudices to marshlands.

I set my main anchor on the flood (in 4m), and paid out the usual scope before dropping my danforth from the stern and running a similar length of rode to the samson post. I wasn’t too comfortable about the arrangement and set my alarm to wake me at the turn of the tide. I’d thoroughly checked the almanacs tables but as an added precaution I left my depth sounder on and set its alarm to 1m.

After having anchors drag, I’ve grown accustomed to taking extra precautions while asleep. For good measure and for the first time in months, I also took the trouble to hang out my dusty anchor ball and display an anchor light.