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2002 Cruise

2002 May - June

Our destination for our first cruise of the season was not cast in stone but we assumed that we would end up somewhere in the Galician rias.

We travelled to Rochefort on Wednesday 22 May, keen to be off south and west. We had some work to do on the boat which included the installation of a new calorifier, a holding tank and an earth leakage cut out for the 240v electrics, and we reckoned on being away about 3 days later. How naïve can you get! Spare parts that should have been waiting for us were not and work that should have been completed by a local boatyard was of course still outstanding.  However by 27 May we were ready.

The weather, which up to then had been generally manageable westerlies and 2 to 3 metres swell, then settled into a run of strong south-westerlies peppered with heavy showers and with the swell in the Bay of Biscay forecast at 4.5 – 5 metres. There were even rumours that the swell at the Azores was 9 metres and that the Bay could not be expected to calm down before mid-June. Our course needed to be 185° – 190° and we were not over keen to beat into a F6 with a big swell to contend with as well. This meant a further delay waiting for more settled weather.

Our daughter Katie who had planned to make the trip across Biscay with us, wanted to be in Bilbao to meet up with a friend by Thursday 30 May. So, on the 29 she left us and made the trip to Bilbao by train and coach. Being tired of waiting for the weather to improve, Kathleen and I hired a car and went sightseeing for the day.

During the 29th the weather relented somewhat and we suddenly seemed to have the 2 day window needed with the Meteo offering NW3 and a swell of 3 metres. So Kathleen and I made hurried preparations for an 0800 departure the following morning , 6 days later than planned. We made our farewells to Pascal Proust and his team at the Rochefort Capitainerie and set out down the Charente for the last time bound for Bilbao. The weather was pretty much as forecast and we hoisted our new sails for the beat up past Oleron.

We rounded the NW tip of the Isle d’Oleron at 1300 and set out on a course of 215° to take us outside the NW corner of the Landes missile testing range, which stretches up to 55M offshore. By now the wind had backed and was light and from the NNE so we motor-sailed downwind with the Autohelm struggling to keep a straight course. We could have sailed at 3-4kts but with over 200 M to cover and a crew of 2, we wanted to keep moving at a reasonable speed. The swell from the NW made everything difficult and the wind was not sufficient to keep the sails filling in the troughs so we flapped and rolled along. During the evening, the wind had a bit more east in it but still too light so we experimented with rigging the staysail as well as the genoa. We are not at all sure that it gave any extra speed but it probably made the boat look better.

During the night we took 2 hour watches as we plodded on southwards. I had expected to meet fishing boats as our track was just outside the missile range. However the sea was very empty for hour after hour. At one point, I thought that I could see flashes from the southern sector of the range but by then we were more than 10M clear of the French military playground. We later learned the yachts often cut across the range but this bit of bravado would have benefited us little.

During the night the wind settled into the SE, (so much for the NW forecast!), and the swell seemed to increase but we were making good progress. Visibility had been good but as we neared the Basque coast we could see a veil of haze / mist ahead. We saw the hazy outline of the mountainous coast at around  1500 and we finally entered the Abra de Bilbao at 1700 on Friday 31 May. We headed for the new marina at Getxo, which is some 5M from the entrance. We had covered 212M in 34 hours. Almost as soon as we were berthed in the marina, Katie arrived to stay with us on board until her departure 2 days later.

The next couple of days were spent in visiting the city of Bilbao, which is the largest city in autonomous Basque region of Spain that many of the inhabitants prefer to call Euskadi. I had been there many times on business but much has changed, not least the new Guggenheim art gallery. This is an amazing modern building which is itself a work of art and which is complimented by the exhibits inside it. We were also able to meet up with a trio of Basque friends for a few drinks and news of what ex-colleagues were now doing.

Monday 3 June should have seen our departure for all points west but visibility was very poor. It was not easy to see across the estuary at times so we had to wait for an improvement. Tuesday 4 was much the same but on Wednesday 5 June visibility was much better, but instead we had rain propelled by a F6 westerly. The forecast sea state was for ‘gruesa’ which translates as our old friend ‘rough’. Thurs 6 was a little better as it was not actually raining and the wind was down to F5 westerly. We set out for Gijon at 1100, expecting to motor for most of the 160M and to arrive in Gijon the following day. With the wind in our teeth and a choppy sea we made steady progress at about 5kts and by 1700 we had cleared Cabo Ajo. We then found out that this headland had been sheltering us from the real wind and sea state which was becoming distinctly rough. We tried standing further out to sea but this only made things worse and by 1900 we decided to divert into Santander which was by then to the south of our position. So we reluctantly entered Santander marina at around 2100 having covered only 50M. Soon after we had checked in we had a visit from Aduana (customs) officers. All very friendly and they even understood my Spanish.

Santander is the largest city of the province of Cantabria, which is the only part of the north coast of Iberia that was part of the kingdom of Castille and hence part of classical Spain. It was not somewhere that we had intended to visit, but we needed a port of refuge! The marina itself is fine and the staff most friendly, but it is several miles to the south of the city, with no access to public transport and cut-off from the nearest shops by a motorway. Its location has only one advantage, it is alongside the local airport.

By this time the local coastguard were broadcasting a gale warning for the Friday and Saturday, and it looked as if we were stuck again. The forecast proved correct with strong winds and rain from the west for the next 2 days. We gave in, hired a car, and went to see the Picos de Europa. The Picos may not be the highest mountains in Europe but they are very rugged and ‘sharp’. We went to the new funicular which goes up to the isolated village of Bulnes. However as it was raining and the prices were fairly expensive we decided not to go up. We learned later that it was snowing in Bulnes at the time so perhaps we should have made the trip up after all. The following morning we could see the Picos, which were at least 35kms away from Santander, with all the high peaks picked out in brilliant white. Later that day we visited the ‘showpiece’ village of Santillana del Mar and the fishing village of Comillas, which has an interesting example of the early work of the Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi, the ‘Capricho de Gaudi’.

One small consolation in all this was, that in the mountain town of Arenas, we were able to buy a Cabrales cheese. This is a blue cheese from the Picos and Asturias that we had first tasted in Bilbao and that we consider to be easily the best cheese made in Iberia. The hunt for interesting cheeses became almost a sub-plot for our two cruises and cheese crops up from time to time in this account.

The forecast for the Monday 10 June was better so we set out at 1030 for an overnight trip to Gijon. Our track took us 5 – 8M offshore but the towering plumes of spray from the swell breaking against the rocky shore were very clearly visible. Later on, the Picos were dramatically lit up by the setting sun. These mountains are only about 15km inland so they make a dramatic backdrop when seen from the sea.

As our course was westerly and the wind was still WNW, we tacked until early evening when we gave in a started the engine. The wind was never more than F3 and mostly less and it dodged about between SW and NW. Hence we motored for 15 hours of the 20.5 hours it took us to cover 110M.

We arrived at Gijon early morning of the 11 June. The entrance to the marina was somewhat disconcerting as the swell was breaking on the harbour mole and only about  100m to the west of the entrance there is a rock, which is marked by a beacon. There was a good deal of surge in the marina which made mooring the boat to the pontoon and finger a bit of a challenge. Gijon is in the region of Asturias, which is rather different from the rest of Spain and proud of being the only part of Iberia never occupied by the Moors. The area is known for its cider and dairy products as well as coal mining!

We were moored close to a large, Belgian flagged, motor yacht that was very inappropriately named ‘Papillon’. Anything less like a butterfly would be hard to imagine, ‘El Gordo’, (i.e. the fat one), would have been more appropriate.

After 2 nights in Gijon we set out on Thursday 13 June at 1100 for the overnight run westwards to La Coruña. The wind was light and rather variable so we motored and sailed by turns. Our log recorded the following sequence:- SE2; SE2/3; ESE3; E3/4; E2; Var1; NW2; Calm; W5/6/7; W4; SW4; SW3. By 0200 on Friday 14 we were off one of the famous headlands of Spain – Cabo Ortegal. There was little wind and a smooth sea but there were flashes of lightning in the sky. I went off watch and Kathleen took over. Sometime around 0330, I became aware that the wind was rising so I went up to see what was happening. We had some 30kts of wind on the nose, (it had been up to 35kts at one point), a nasty confused sea and we were only making about 2kts over the ground and under engine. We were heading almost due west in deep water about 2M north of the headland.

I decided that the new mainsail needed to be furled to avoid damage, however when the sail was about 90% furled there was a bang and the main halliard went slack. The sail had partially slipped down the in-mast track but could still be furled OK. To add to the fun we now had a fishing boat to contend with but, after some concern about his course and intentions, our paths diverged and all was well. However, a little later we encountered another one, which, like the first, was a brilliant blaze of lights. As he seemed to be approaching us rapidly we turned 90° so that we were then going north, but no sooner had we altered course he appeared to do the same as if pursuing us. I tried flashing a searchlight in his direction but it is unlikely that it would have been seen at all. Finally we changed course again, another 90° so that we were going back east. As his blaze of light receded we gradually turned back to our westerly course. All this time the wind was still very strong and the sea rough. It is perhaps not too surprising that they did not see us but more worrying was that neither fishing vessel showed up on the radar which was giving us clear echoes from the headland and from vessels further offshore.

The wind and sea gradually subsided and we motored on still into wind, which inevitably changed to SW as our course did. In any case we could not use the mainsail until I had been up the mast. We arrived at the Real Club Nautico of La Coruña at 1300 on Friday 14 June and headed for the pontoons but were met by Enrico the Contramaestre shouting ‘impossible’ and indicating that we should pick up a mooring buoy. We had covered 146M in 26 hours.

Saturday 15 was spent in exploring the city and some basic shopping.  La Coruña is a pleasant city and with a new and large marina that appeared to be almost ready to open, which will make it an even more important yachting centre and stop-over for long distance cruisers. Also, in contrast to the sadly isolated marina at Santander, the new marina in La Coruña is alongside the old city and shopping areas. (We later learned that the new marina is now open for business.) This was our first stop in Galicia which is noticeably different from most peoples’ image of Spain and also has its own language – Gallego which is widely used in preference to Castillian Spanish. Galicia has celtic sounding folk music which uses bagpipes. The climate too is like a warmer version of Brittany or Cornwall with plenty of rainfall. It is said that, if you cannot see across the ria at La Coruña it is raining and, if you can see across the ria it will rain soon.

On Sunday 16 I tried to sort out the main halliard. This had parted at the top of the masthead swivel and the weight of the wire had pulled the broken end down through the masthead sheave. A small roller thrust bearing in the swivel was rusted solid which probably caused the wire halliard to fail. My chances of locally sourcing an imperial sized thrust bearing about the size of 2 pennies one on top of the other could be regarded as impossible so another solution had to be found. We decided to raise the sail with a temporary halliard but without the swivel we had to fasten the sail to the top of the furling rod. This meant that although we could furl and unfurl the sail, it could only be lowered by cutting the temporary attachment at the masthead. It worked and with an unexpected benefit, it was much easier to operate the furling mechanism without the rusted-up swivel in place. However another gremlin was waiting to pounce. After 36 hours on a buoy we needed to recharge the batteries, which could only be done by running the engine. Needless to say it would not start and this was the start of a saga that was still running at the end of our first trip. Missing out all the smelly details, it has involved gunge and water in the tank, blocked filters, air leaks and finally tired and dirty injectors.

Monday 17 June we stayed put because it was Kathleen’s birthday and some special shopping and eating out were the order of the day. Also the weather had been improving and suddenly it was warm enough for shorts and tee shirts.

We left La Coruña late morning on 18 June after the Club’s handyman had got the engine running for us. We sailed, yes really sailed because the wind was about F3 and from the NW, and our course was SW past Las Islas Sisargas and various headlands, turning gradually more southerly. After what had seemed like weeks with the wind in our teeth it was very pleasant to have a reach and then a broad reach and to able to make swift progress without the engine. We turned into the Ria de Corme y Lage and because the wind was NW we headed for the anchorage at Corme which is at the N end of the ria. It was an amazingly sheltered spot considering its location on the extreme NW corner of Spain and open to the Atlantic ocean. We had covered 38M in a little over 7 hours.

After a peaceful night at anchor we set out at 0930 on the 19 June for the northernmost of the big rias – Ria de Muros. This took us past Finisterre , the ‘end of the earth’, which everyone has heard of. It is not the dramatic headland separating the Atlantic from the Bay of Biscay that I had imagined. It points south and is not even the most westerly point of NW Spain. (Just as the Cape of Good Hope is not the most southerly point of Africa!) By now the wind was northerly and we were rushing along at 7-8kts under Genoa only. Unlike a certain British warship we managed to skirt round the well charted but unmarked rocks to the NW of the ria entrance and headed up the ria for 5M to the excellent marina at Portosin which we reached at 1900 after a run of 60M. We had decided on Portosin as it seemed to be a good spot to leave the boat whilst we had a day in Santiago de Compostella. Just outside the Cathedral in Santiago we came upon a group of Galician folk musicians in local costume, who were performing for a reception outside a hotel. The guests paid them little attention but the tourists, including us, watched and listened with interest. We also spent a very pleasant half day ambling round the small town of Noia. This is no tourist trap but just an interesting ‘real’ Galician town. For both visits we used the local bus services, which were a good way to see real people and places.

Portosin is in an attractive location and the yacht club that runs the marina has very good facilities and amazingly cheap meals in its large restaurant. The main drawback to Portosin was the fishing fleet, which always leaves or returns at full throttle, leaving all the boats in the marina bouncing and jerking at their moorings.

We said goodbye to Portosin at 1100 on Sunday 23 June bound for the ria d’Arosa with a northerly F6 but a cloudless sky, this was more like it! We rushed past Corrubedo and decided to take the cowards’ route into the ria, which is round the south of the Isla Salvora. (There is a shorter route to the north of this island but the pilot book suggests that local knowledge is needed.) This left us with 5 miles to go up to the anchorage at St Eugenia but this was almost due north so on with the engine again. Kathleen thought that she saw a fin or fins above the water but I was concentrating on avoiding rocks and viveros,(mussel rearing rafts), and saw nothing of these creatures. We reached St Eugenia at 1800 having covered 38M in about 6 hours.

We anchored soon after HW in the recommended spot to the NE of the beach and a little N of some drying rocks. This gave plenty of shelter from the N wind and the water was very smooth. However as the tide fell the rocks emerged and none too far away downwind! We decided to re-anchor nearer the beach and further from the rocks, which however Kathleen described as ‘rounded and furry, not jagged or unfriendly looking’. Having re-set the anchor, we set the GPS as anchor watch and retired. The wind by this time had increased somewhat and the Navtex was forecasting a gale for our part of Finisterre. A little after 0400 the GPS was bleeping madly so I investigated, to find that we had moved a little downwind but seemed to be holding OK. I went back to my bunk but a little after 0700 the bleeping started again and I looked out to see the rocks much closer astern, - time to move!  Kathleen took the controls whilst I wrestled with the anchor. Most of the chain came in easily but the last 10 metres were a struggle and the windlass was at its limit. This seemed odd because we were moving under engine and definitely not still connected to the bottom. As I gradually reeled in the last few metres I could see the reason, the anchor appeared to have been replaced by a green ball about 60cm in diameter. I had to get a knife and slice away this mass of weed. I already knew that Bruce anchors were not too good at holding through weed, but I did not know that they were quite so good at collecting it.

With a gale warning and an engine that was still sulking at times we debated our options and decided that the best plan was to head for Bayona, which is one of the few places in Galicia where we could safely leave the boat in order to return home for a few weeks. So we set out at 1100 on Monday 24 June under a cloudless sky but with a F6/7 NE wind using only a partially unfurled genoa. Our course took us almost due south and inside the shelter of the Islas Salvora, Ons and Cies so we were sheltered from the worst of the swell. As we were clearing St Eugenia, Kathleen again spotted what were probably 3 common dolphins.

The only tricky part of our course was the relatively narrow channel between the NE corner of Isla Ons and the mainland, This is marked with beacons but is not buoyed and the chart shows various objects depicted as ‘*’ or ‘+’ on either side of the Paso de Fagilda. However we rushed through without ‘doing a Nottingham’.

We crossed the Ria de Pontevedra and went through the Canal del Norte into the Ria de Vigo passing the beautiful Islas Cies. These islands have several very attractive anchorages but which are only viable if the wind is light and with a bit of west in it, and definitely not with a F6/7 ENE. So, on we went into Bayona, and into the puerto deportivo run by the Monte Real Club de Yates, arriving at 1700 after a run of 33M. This is rightly popular with cruising yachtsmen, a well run marina in a very attractive spot below the castle walls and close to the town centre shops and restaurants.

We did however have one serious ‘grouse’ about Galicia which was that, having acquired a taste for Cabrales cheese, we found that this was unobtainable in Bayona where the only blue cheese on offer was Roquefort. The situation became even worse later on as, in Portugal, blue cheese of any kind was unknown, hardly surprising as it is expensive to ship it in from the moon.

Alongside us on port side was an absolutely brand new Oceanis 361, whose Bavarian owners were more than a little anxious about the risk of a mark on their new toy. However we soon had a shared adversity because Kathleen tried to go head first down the companionway and sustained a few bruises as a result. This was repeated and more so by our Bavarian neighbour as he fell down the companionway of their new boat and had to be taken to hospital in Vigo, where it was diagnosed that he had sustained several cracked ribs. He later told me that he had slipped on their new, shiny and wet deck

Before leaving Kabardar for a few weeks, I had to go up the mast to release the mainsail and to run through a mousing line for a new main halliard. I had made a crude mast climbing aid based on a design shown in Practical Boat Owner. This, although not pretty, works well and enables me to climb the mast using leg power and Kathleen only has to reel in the halliard  with very little hard winch grinding. I was up at the masthead for what seemed like half a day but which was probably about an hour. I had to repeatedly cease my attempts at threading a line through the inaccessible pulley sheaves as various craft came whizzing past causing me a new view of ‘rock and roll’. Once I had found a route through the gadgetry at the masthead, dropping a line with a big shackle pin on the end down the inside of the mast was the easy bit.

Once again we noticed that Spanish skippers like to do everything in style, ie. at full throttle if possible. This particularly applies to fishing boats whose arrival back in port at 0400 is announced by all the craft in the harbour or marina bouncing around like mad. Also on the subject of fishing, I was surprised at the number of pots set in seriously deep water, (50-70m), and that some were marked by an empty 5litre engine oil container or coke bottle and little else. The level of inshore fishing seems to cause problems with damaged or discarded nets that are the subject of warnings on Navtex broadcasts. Not infrequently nets or bits of them are brought back to harbour wrapped round the propellers of sailing and motor yachts. We met two British yachts that had been disabled in this way. One had to be towed into Gijon by the huge Red Cross lifeboat

We travelled home on the 28 and 29 June by the overnight coach from Vigo to Bilbao and then a very cheap flight to Stanstead. The most expensive part of this trip was the rail journey from Stanstead to Beverley.

2002 July - August

We travelled back to Bayona on the 23 July via Madrid and made the journey from there to Vigo by rail. This rail journey, in a modern ‘Talgo’ train was inexpensive, comfortable and took us though some magnificent scenery. Most of the route was on single track lines through the mountains that separate Spain and Portugal.

As Katie and Derek were not due to arrive on until 29 July, we had a few days to do jobs such as install the new main halliard, refit the overhauled injectors to the engine and, most important, to install a new CD sound system. (We do not believe in camping on board.) The weather had settled into a highly satisfactory pattern of clear skies and temperatures of 28 to 30°.

With the Azores high to the west and the Iberian heat low on the east, the west coast of Iberia has a prevailing summer wind from the north. This suited us just fine but makes working back northwards none too easy. There is also a tendency for a sea breeze that, by the late afternoon, augments the gradient wind giving north-westerlies of  6 or 7. This is no big deal when rushing south before the wind but can make manoeuvring in marinas somewhat interesting. It can also produce local strengthening of the wind plus big gusts near headlands and harbour entrances, (as we were to find out later!) There is also a 0.5kt south going current that makes going south even easier.

Katie and Derek arrived on schedule on the 29 July so the following day we left Bayona and made the 7M hop to the main anchorage of Las Islas Cies. We had planned to move on after lunch but stayed to explore the main island, which is a national park and nature reserve. After a quiet night at anchor we prepared to leave at 0930 on the 31 July but the anchor would not budge, or at least it seemed to be stuck. The strange thing was that with the chain pulled vertical we could motor out into deeper water. We rigged a hefty line to the chain with a chain hook and used a main sheet winch to aid the windlass. Metre by metre we hauled it up to find that we had a large and very heavy piece of fishing net on the anchor. This net had been lurking on the bottom so long that a good sized sponge was growing on it. When this net was finally cut free the bow of the boat fairly jumped upwards. So half an hour late we were off towards Portugal with a wind of NW2/3 and not a cloud in sight. We passed out between two of the islands and no sooner had we settled on our southerly course we had a pod of dolphins playing around the boat. It was a great pleasure to be visited by these intelligent, graceful and playful creatures.

The wind settled into the north and gradually built to F4, the sea state slowly increased until it was fairly rough as we turned into the Rio Lima entrance to go into the marina at Viana do Castello. As we turned the corner the wind suddenly piped up to a NW6 and in an instant we changed from basking in the sun to sheltering from the spray. We had gusts of up to 35 knots. This wind is apparently caused by a funnelling effect between two hills. Still the commotion and discomfort were short lived and we entered the marina at 1530 having covered 42M in 7 hours, allowing for gaining an hour by the change back to British summer time.

The small marina, which nestles almost underneath a road/rail bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel, is rather makeshift but with a magnificent administration building. But as we would discover, if there is one thing that Portuguese marinas are really good at, it is form filling.

Not long after we had arrived in Viana a German yacht named ‘Tide Song’ came in alongside us. Soon Katie and Derek heard a good whistled rendition of ‘Colonel Bogey’ coming from this boat. There were also impressions of a doorbell , a telephone and wolf whistles. These were coming from the beak of a seriously talented parrot that was entertaining the crews of several boats.

Viana do Castello is a delightful old town with many well preserved 16th century buildings but which is not on the main ‘tourist trail’. We climbed up the hill behind the town, to see the basilica on the top but mainly for the panorama of the town and the coastline to the south. However, Viana confirmed what we had already suspected, which was that Portuguese cheese was even more bland and boring than most Spanish cheeses. There were different shaped and coloured cheeses but their ‘insides’ were uniformly bland. There was however a pleasant compensation, which was that being in the Minho region, we were able to enjoy drinking good vinho verde. This light, slightly sparkling and acidic wine is excellent drunk very chilled sitting in the cockpit at the start of a warm and sunny evening

On our second evening in Viana we went to a free jazz concert in one of the old squares, part of a programme of events run by the local council to pull in more tourists.

At 0845 on the 2 August we were on our way again, this time bound for Leixoes. The wind was light, only N2/3 but we soon had the cruising chute up and filling and we sailed most of the 35 miles covered with this blue and yellow ‘monster’ working well. We turned into Leixoes harbour and marina at 1430.

We then used Leixoes as a base for spending a day and a half exploring the old city of Porto which Kathleen and I consider to be the most interesting place visited on the whole trip. The old quarters running down to the Duoro river have recently been designated as a Unesco world heritage site. There was also the added attraction of visiting a port warehouse. Taylors was the one that we chose to learn more about this famous wine and to make some strategic purchases. For us the pleasure of Porto is that it is a real and vibrant city where tourism is only a small part of its business activity. In the marina at Leixoes we heard the familiar strains of ‘Colonel Bogey’ from the next pontoon, ‘Tide Song’ was there as well!

Early on the 4 August we left Leixoes bound for Figueira da Foz. The normal northerly wind was on strike and we had light winds that varied between SSE and SW but never more than F3 and mostly less. Visibility was generally poor and for long periods we were under engine with the radar running. We tried to sail at times and at one stage had the staysail up as well as the genoa to try to maximise sail area but sailing with little wind in even a slight Atlantic swell is not easy as the sails are prone to flap and bang with each passing trough. By 1600 we were off Cabo Mondego and close to Figuera so we decided to carry on to Nazare. The visibility improved for a while but this was however a brief respite and we soon had fog with visibility down to 50-100 metres at times and we had to have one person on radar watch duties. At about 2200 we were approaching Nazare and considered anchoring off the beach as safely negotiating the harbour entrance might be tricky, however as we closed on our waypoint for the entrance the visibility improved dramatically and we motored in without a hitch at 2300. We had covered 100M in just over 15 hours.

We were met by the famous Capt. Mike Hadley who appeared to be in charge of everything, although his exact function is still a mystery. He had been celebrating with the crew of a Russian yacht due to depart the following day so his shouted instructions as to where to berth were not easy to interpret. I then had to complete the formalities with a Brigada Fiscal officer who had also been celebrating with the Russians. He spoke little English and my Portuguese is limited to bom dia plus a few numbers. All this added to the amount of vodka that he had shipped meant that the form filling was not as complete or accurate as usual but the whole process was very friendly.

Nazare used to be a fishing village but is now a holiday resort, pictures showing brightly painted small fishing boats on the beach are out of date. These have been replaced with hundreds of brightly coloured beach tents, like canvas versions of the ‘shallys’ so familiar at British resorts. The oldest part of the town is O Sitio, which is high up on a headland and linked to the new town by a funicular railway. We took advantage of the good bus services from Nazare as Katie and Derek managed to visit the monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha, plus a short visit to Obidos. Kathleen and I made a more leisurely visit to Obidos, which is a very pretty fortified hilltop village complete with a castle that is now a Pousada or state run posh hotel.

With the objective of arriving at a reasonable hour, we left Nazare at the obscene hour of 0610 on the 7 August, bound for Cascais. To begin with the wind was a little ‘wobbly’ from the NW but then settled into the normal pattern with a N3/4. By 0900 we had the spinnaker up and swept on south in great style until 1650 when the first effects of the Nortada were apparent. Inside half an hour we went from the main plus spinnaker to a double reefed genoa only. The wind and sea were both fairly testing as we rounded Cabo de Roca but calmed down greatly as we motored in towards the marina at Cascais where we arrived at 1800, having covered 69M in just under 12 hours.

The marina at Cascais is expensive but worth it with good facilities and helpful staff, they even answered our call on VHF, rare in Iberia. Even the Aduana (customs) officer was helpful, handing out tourist leaflets as well as lists of duty free allowances. Cascais is an attractive resort where the Spanish royal family lived for years when Franco was the dictator of Spain. It is famous for its ‘wave pavements’, which are made of small pieces of white and black marble laid in wave patterns. These can have an unsettling optical effect, and we reckoned that they could make one feel very much worse if already suffering with a good ‘skin-full’ or a hangover. For two of our nights at Cascais the Nortada was particularly strong with a NW blow close to gale force and even more in the gusts. On both occasions the wind was strongest by late evening, only dying away at 0200 or 0300.

It is an easy commuter train ride from Cascais into Lisbon and we went sightseeing in this capital city. This included a ride into Alfama on a No 28 tram and a visit to the Gulbenkian art collection. The old ‘electricos’ of Lisbon are small wooden bodied affairs built in England about 80 years ago. They weave their way through the narrow and steep streets of the city’s oldest quarters, seemingly missing parked cars, lamp-posts and buildings by millimetres. We even had a bit of luck on the cheese front as Kathleen and I managed to find some Queso de Serra, which is an artisan cheese from the mountainous NE of Portugal. This being more than about a week old, actually had some flavour to it. It was a little like a soft Brie in texture but with a very distinct taste. Another Iberian speciality is Bacalao, which dried and salted cod. This looks like bits of driftwood from the beach and has to be soaked in fresh water for twenty four hours before being cooked according to one of the hundreds of different recipes used in the two countries.

Kathleen and I left Cascais at 1400 on Monday 12 August bound for the Algarve. We did not have a specific port in mind, just ‘somewhere round the corner’. We planned to round Cabo S. Vicente and Cabo de Sagres the following morning, to avoid the afternoon blast from the Nortada. We sailed on 175° under full Genoa and main with the wind W3, a slight sea and visibility of the ‘see forever’ category.

Two hours later at 1600 the sea was more like moderate and the wind NW3/4, and we were being pursued by a large vessel. This was rapidly catching us from astern and, as far as we could tell, on exactly the same course. We could soon see that this was a large container vessel and as it showed no signs of changing course, I tried calling it on VHF 16 and then 13, but there was no response. I even tried calling Lisbon radio as I could hear them but I suspect that we were by then really too far away for them to pick up our transmission. We did not know what to do to avoid being run down as any change of course that we could have made could have simply put us back in the path of the overtaking vessel if he also changed course. At the last moment he made a slight course change and passed dangerously close down our port side. I had expected to find that the ‘bully-boy’ was flagged and registered in Bananaland but no, this was a British registered ship flying the red ensign. The name and port of registry are in our log, and we did not need to use binoculars to read these from the stern. We cannot know if the watch on the bridge was asleep, missing or incompetent but the result was just plain dangerous and very unprofessional.

The weather was perfect with amazing visibility, at 1800 our log recorded that the Serra do Sintra  mountains were still visible even though they were 31M away. By then we were under genoa only and finding it harder to keep the sail filling as we had a moderate following sea. Hence we tacked downwind to keep the genoa happy.

The wind gradually reduced to NW2 but we had entertainment laid on to keep us awake during the night watches. The night of 12/13 August was very clear and we were some 18-20M offshore and well clear of the loom of any shore lights. We had a fabulous star filled sky above us with the milky way like a painted stripe. Although we did not realise this at the time, that night was one with a large number of meteorites coming into the Earth’s atmosphere and we were treated to a display of ‘shooting stars’, some of which seemed to be quite large. By 0200 on the 13 August we had a confused and rather rough sea making it difficult to keep the sail filling, hence we resorted to the engine. We went round the ‘horn’, (actually Cabo S. Vicente and Cabo do Sagres!), at about 0830. Just after 0900, we were met by an Algarve welcome committee in the form of a group of dolphins, which played around us for about 30 minutes.

Having turned the corner the sea became very smooth but the wind backed into the NE which of course was where we were going. So we motored on, entering the new marina at Portimao at 1320, having covered 135M in just over 23 hours.

Choosing this new marina was a big mistake because, although the 650 berths are in full operation, the promised shops etc. are still under construction and any serious shopping means a trip into Portimao – 3km. away. The management try to rectify this by offering a free minibus service to the town and hypermarket but this is second best to onsite facilities. Also the marina is really in Praia da Rocha which is a resort with a lovely beach, modern hotel and apartment buildings but it is about as Portuguese as Blackpool with plenty of bars serving English beer and fry-up breakfasts, plus pizza, pizza everywhere!

This was where Dave and Nicky joined us on the 14 August. Unfortunately the marina is called ‘Marina de Portimao’ but it is physically in Praia da Rocha. As there are two other very small marinas in Portimao town, Dave and Nicky had a frustrating time trying to find us.

The 15 August started off misty with little wind. We waited for things to improve and at 1230 we were off, with the plan to anchor for the night at Baleeira, which is the harbour for Sagres and under the headland of the same name. We had an easy sail with S3 wind and little sea, and the visibility steadily improved. I decided that the time had come to take some photographs of the boat and was all ready to go off in the dinghy when the Nortada began its usual tricks. Just as well I had not actually set off in the dinghy because in what seemed like 10 minutes, the wind had veered and strengthened to a NW6/7. The sea state also picked up quickly but we were close to our planned destination so we motored in to the anchorage at Baleeira. I did not like the look of what we found, there was little swinging room, the holding was reputed to be poor over sand and rock and there was little shelter from the 30kt gusts. We decided to go back east to Lagos marina, some 8 miles away. We reached Lagos at 2000 having covered 40M in 7.5 hours. We liked the marina at Lagos, the staff were helpful, the facilities good and the shelter excellent. We were also surprised to see another Contessa 38 and to add to the coincidence, there was also an example of the even rarer later variant the Dawn 39, which is almost identical but with a small counter behind the cockpit. After returning home we have made contact with the owners of the other Contessa 38.

On the 16 August we left Lagos marina but initially only went as far as the anchorage at the headland SW of Lagos. This is a scenic area with natural arches, sea caves and tiny coves. After  a few hours of exploring by dinghy, loafing on the beach, plus a swim for Nicky and I, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the beach before sailing on to the marina at Vilamoura.  The Nortada was on holiday as the wind started NW5 but steadily decreased to NW1/2. We covered 27 miles.

On the 17 August we sailed from Vilamoura to the creek at Tavira. The wind was light, initially S but later it veered W. We hoisted the staysail as well as the main and genoa for a while, and later used the spinnaker. This however fell on top of me when the time came to lower it as the halliard snap shackle had opened. This was the second time that the same snap shackle has opened prematurely, it is probably time to replace it! Having covered 25M we looked for a spot to anchor in the Tavira creek. There was little space with craft even anchored between the posts marking the channel. We were forced to use a spot with hardly enough depth of water, particularly if the wind went northerly, swinging us over a shallower patch. I set the shallow alarm on the sounder and retired for the night.

At 0500 I was woken by the shallow water alarm. The wind was predictably now in the north and we were showing 1.8m, (we need 1.6m on the sounder). There is a high-speed water taxi at Tavira that works between the town pier and the island with the main beaches. This noisy craft was busy all night and its wash was making Kabardar pitch a little as it passed. The amazing fact was that this taxi was still shooting backwards and forwards at 0500 and its wake was just enough to make Kabardar gently bump the sandy bottom between about 0520 and 0540. (Low water was at 0530)

On the 18 August we motored the 18M to the Rio Guardiana as the wind was a very light SE. This river is the border between Spain and Portugal and initially we tried to get into the Marina at Ayamonte on the Spanish side. We managed to contact them by VHF but were told to wait until after 1400 as there was a swimming race in progress. At 1345 we called again only to be told that the marina was already full. So we simply went to the competing marina on the Portuguese side at Vila Real de Santo Antonio, this too was close to full but we were able to stay for two nights on the reception and visitors pontoon. This marina has the disadvantage that it is exposed to the tidal flow in the estuary, which can make for interesting manoeuvring. It was also badly damaged in the flash floods on this river in November 1997 when the level of the river rose rapidly by some 6m and many boats were wrecked and a number of people swept away and drowned. For some reason the grey mullet seemed to like the space between Kabardar and the pontoon although they had to swim constantly to stay in one place. The fish attracted a group of intrepid French boy fishermen who were very successful at catching these fish. We smiled when maman came to reel in the boys and they proudly gave her the catch, which she then discretely tipped back into the river.

The 19 August was spent in sightseeing and shopping in S. Antonio and Ayamonte, the two towns are linked by a ferry service. S. Antonio is an attractive 18th century town planned and re-built after the 1755 earthquake with a grid plan for its streets. It seemed to be popular with Portuguese holidaymakers and those wishing to buy household linens. There were shops selling towels and bedding everywhere. We did not discover why the town had specialised in these unusual lines of holiday souvenirs.

On the 20 August Dave and Nicky set off for home, by train to Faro and BMI baby to E.Midlands . Kathleen and I left S.Antonio at 1030 and headed westwards. The wind was N2 to start with but soon settled to SW3/4. As our course was about SSW we had to tack. We had already decided to anchor at the Faro/Olhao harbour entrance overnight and then on to Lagos where we had decided to leave the boat for the winter and where we already had a reservation.

We reached the Faro breakwaters at 2000 and with the option of anchoring just inside and sheltered from the sea, or outside the eastern breakwater. As the sea was very flat and the engine was being truculent again we opted for the latter as this gave us the space for a departure under sail if necessary. We spent a very quiet and calm night at anchor and noted that we had chosen well as we were spared the wash and noise from the incessant flow of fishing boats going to and from Olhao, being shielded from them by the breakwater.

The following morning, the 21 August, I was up early and I noticed that we were surrounded by very small open fishing boats, each with a lone fisherman aboard. They seemed to be using hand cast nets similar to those still used in Asia. We left the anchorage at 0830 in a flat calm bound for Lagos on our last sail of the cruise. The wind soon picked up from the NW and with F3/4 we tacked WNW. Kabardar was going very well close hauled and the benefits of the new sails were very marked. It was pleasing to be able to outpoint and overtake several other yachts, including a catamaran. However at about 1500 when we were only about 12M from our destination, our old friend the Nortada came roaring back with 30kts plus gusts. We finally motored into Lagos marina at 1820 after a combined run for the two days of 102M.

We then had a couple of days in which to ‘put the boat to bed’ for a month or so and to explore Lagos before our flight home on the 24 August. This is a pleasant old town but rather swamped by tourists, like us!

Our 2002 sailing had covered 1280 nautical miles and our overall impression of the Algarve was that it was lovely to sail in warm sunshine, there are some excellent beaches and interesting coastal scenery, but there is little of cultural or historical interest.

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