A good start to 2015

We’ve spent most of our first week back on Amalia socialising with friends and family. We met up with Martin, Olga, Ricardo and Sofia, who are in Portimao visiting Olga’s parents, and sailed with them to Alvor for lunch. Alvor is a lovely anchorage if you’re careful to mind the sandbanks, and a favourite spot for kite-surfers along this coast:

IMG_0641

We ate sandwiches there as we watched an Italian yacht struggle to free itself from a grounding (see our Facebook page for more pics and discussion).

grounding

Helena’s brother drove down from Coimbra with their parents, and we ate out at a great little restaurant we found in Ferragudo when we were last out here at Easter.

The Portuguese certainly know how to cook meat, and I could barely walk straight when we left.

IMG_0656

IMG_0657

We also had a visit from the UK Parasailor agent on Thursday, to commission our new sail. So far we’re very impressed with it and how easy it was to use. We’re looking forward to trying it out in a slightly stronger breeze, but even in 5kts of wind, we managed to get the boat moving at over 3kts – not bad at all for a heavy boat like ours. Here’s a photo taken by Martin as we sailed back into Portimao harbour:

Parasailor

I’ve finally got the WiFi setup on the boat working as I’d like, which must be a relief for Helena as I’ve had the boat apart running power cables around:

underfloor

There’s been a fair amount of trial and error involved in getting this to work properly, so I’ll write a more technical blog later this week explaining how it all ties together as I’m sure it’ll be useful for anyone trying to set up a 12v WiFi network in a boat or camper van.

Apart from our friendly neighbours, there’s nothing left in Portimao for us now so it’s time to start moving again. As ever, If you’d like to see more photos and movies from our journey, then take a look at our Facebook page.

The Portuguese west coast

We’re now sitting (with a decent internet connection) in the marina at Sines, the southern most port on the Portuguese west coast. So it’s time to catch up with the blog and to report on the interesting places we’ve visited in the past couple of weeks.

The journey south along this stretch of coastline has been quite different to the sailing we’re used to. The distances between ports has generally been quite far, and the scenery all very samey with lots of flat featureless coastline with long sandy beaches dotted along it. On the plus side though, the tides are small, and currents negligible – meaning that we can set off at any time without being too concerned about being caught out by foul tides and currents.

We’ve seen all sorts of conditions, from flat calm seas with little wind, to very high ocean swells being swept in from the Atlantic by blasting winds. There have also been many days when we’ve been caught up in thick summer fog banks. Regardless of this, we have discoverd many fantastic places along the way:

Viana do Castello

This was the first port of call when we arrived in Portugal and it exceeded our expectations by a mile.

We moored stern to with a lazy line in the marina (a practice usually reserved for Mediterranean harbours) and took a short walk ashore to explore the beautiful old city.

IMG_1764

Porto (Leixoes)

Both Helena and I have visited Porto before, so we decided to stop in Leixoes (just a few kilometers north) instead and see what it had to offer.

The pilot book didn’t have great things to say about Leixoes, but we were pleasantly surprised. It was the most reasonably priced marina we found in Portugal and adjacent to a small street with some excellent restaurants – again, very reasonably priced; a delicious dinner for two came to less than €20, this included a €8 bottle of very agreeable alvarinho wine.

Just outside the harbour wall, there is a beach where it is possible to kitesurf a nice left hand break when the afternoon winds pick up:

IMG_20140728_204438

It was here that I unpacked my kites for the first time, eager to get out there, only to discover that my bar and lines are not on in the bag. Very frustrating, but I settled for a cold beer at the beach cafe instead.

Figueira da Foz

This is the closest harbour to Coimbra, where Helena’s family are based. We stopped here for a week to spend some time with them and were spoiled rotten with big meals and great hospitality. In spite of her mobility problems, we even managed to get Helena’s parents on to the boat.

IMG_1793

Being stationary for a few days also meant that I could get a couple of nagging jobs out of the way – like getting the new name lettering fixed on the sides of the boat:

IMG_1798

São Martinho do Porto

A beautiful natural bay that has been eroded out of the land after the sea breached a layer of tougher rock along the coast line. Here’s an aerial shot I found using Google:

smd

We entered this bay with some caution as the charted depths in all but a few areas were too shallow for Amalia. On a rising tide we motored in and watched our depth gauge closely to find a good spot to drop the anchor. We had about a meter under our keel at low water (neap tides). If there had been waves washing into the bay we would have needed to move on – luckily for us the weather was very settled.

panoramic1

We stayed here for a couple of days over my birthday and were the only yacht in the bay. Lovely!

IMG_2644

Peniche

We tried to call the marina on the VHF radio but didn’t get a response so headed for the bay and anchored just outside the harbour instead. The holding was excellent in a sand and clay bottom, which was a good thing as there were very strong offshore gusts in the afternoon and into the night.

The beach was busy with tourists and it looked like a nice place to visit. We decided to eat on the boat that evening though and headed off early the following morning towards Lisbon.

Lisbon (Oeiras & Cascais)

There are many harbours and marinas in Lisbon, we decided (for no particular reason) to bypass the marina at Cascais and stop at Oeiras.

Helena’s sister is based in Lisbon, and once again we were treated to some good old fashioned Portuguese hospitality. She took us on a tour of Sintra, a beautiful and historic area just outside of Lisbon, that we’d recommend to anyone visiting this part of the world.

IMG_2653

After a couple of days in Oeiras, we backtracked to Cascais to meet up with friends from England who had managed to catch up with us from the Channel Islands in just five days! Quite a journey for them. We anchored there for the night and joined up with them and Helena’s sister for some great seafood in a restaurant that shall remain a closely guarded secret (it’s that good!).

Sines

Well what can I say about Sines that won’t get me killed by the locals? In fact what can I say about Sines that hasn’t already been said by the world’s leading geneticists on the effects of inbreeding?

It’s a bit of an odd place. For example, we attended the dullest candlelight procession in history yesterday. From what we can gather, it was intended to celebrate the saint that watches over the local fishing fleet. Sadly though it was more reminiscent of the final scene from The Wicker Man only this time enacted by the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Oh, look at their gloomy faces:

DSC_5368

OK, I’m begin a bit too harsh, it’s not all that bad.

Sines is ideally situated as a stop over before rounding Cape St Vincent and heading on to the Algarve. We’ve found good places to eat: the coffee shop by the fort serves great cakes, and O Castello just across the street is the place to go for an evening meal (the black pig pork chops are amazing). And although the marina is a short hike into town, it overlooks a nice clean beach. Did I mention it has a decent internet connection too?

IMG_2660

The final leg home

There are grey skies outside today and it would appear that our luck with the weather has held out just long enough to get us back home safely. This morning, the BBC weatherman said that the first autumn storm will strike on Sunday bringing with it 60 miles per hour winds. So as much as we’d love to still be out there on our journey, the elements seem to have decided that its about time to leave Amalia in the harbour and to return to our land based lives for a while.

This last week has really been a long slow wind-down for us. We spent a couple of days in the Solent getting jobs done on the boat and then headed back fairly quickly along the south coast to Ramsgate where we’ll keep Amalia for the winter.

We passed the needles under threatening skies and arrived in Cowes last Saturday, the 7th September, meeting up with my son Ed and his girlfriend Jenny who are both studying at the university there.

DSC_4688

We were in early and moored up in Shepards Quay marina. There were three end of season regattas in the Solent that weekend so after a few hours we were well and truly pinned in by the other boats that had rafted alongside us:

IMG_1158

The next day we crossed the Solent and moored up in Hamble, an overpriced marina in the arse-end of nowhere but with excellent facilities and workshops that we could employ to get the boat back into tip-top shape. Two days later, all jobs completed, we set off again with Ed on board, passing the old Solent fortresses on our way:

DSC_4699

DSC_4707

We spent that night at anchor in Chichester harbour and set off the following morning, passing Beachy Head and planning to stop for the night in Eastbourne marina.

DSC_4735a

There are a number of different tides in play along the south coast and the timing of their currents changes as you round each major headland. When travelling from west to east, as we were, it is possible to catch one favourable tide after another if you get your timing right.

Eastbourne was in sight as we rounded Beachy Head, but it was also clear that we’d timed it just about right to catch a good tide from there to Dungeness if we wanted to. Taking this option meant that we’d be able to pass Dungeness and arrive in Dover some seven hours later, at about 9pm. Arriving anywhere (let alone Dover) in the dark can be tricky and was something that we’d avoided doing anywhere on this trip, but it would put us a day ahead of schedule with deteriorating weather forecasts.

So, with Eastbourne in our wake and a new route to Dover plotted, we pressed on. Avoiding the busy traffic lanes and the ferries, we arrived dead on 9pm and crept into the marina for the night. Here we are passing the huge nuclear power station at the tip of Dungeness along the way:

DSC_4744

The next day was a short hop on to Ramsgate where we completed our circumnavigation, and were greeted home by Alan and Vanessa with their son Alfie. Once tied up on the visitors pontoon, we celebrated in the local cafe with bacon rolls and champagne, a combination I can highly recommend:

IMG_1177

Completing the circumnavigation has given us a big confidence boost in regard to our seamanship. It’s a huge achievement for us and I suspect spells the start of a more permanent lifestyle for us a little further down the line.

As ever, if you’d like to see more photos of our journey, then take a look at the albums on our Facebook page.

The Cornish Coast

We arrived in Penzance from the Scilly Isles on the 29th August and from there we sailed the next day around Lizard Point to meet my Dad in Falmouth. We spent a lovely evening there sampling yet more fish and chips and later, the delicious local beers.

cornwallroute

The next day turned out to be a day for reacquainting with old friends from Uni. We shared tea and biscuits on board with John Salter and his parter Claire before setting sail for Fowey.  After a windy sail, we arrived in Fowey, and I received a FB message from Ian Utting and Sally Fincher who spotted us arriving in the harbour from the flat they rent there each summer. We joined them for drinks later in the evening, and they showed us around. It was a pretty impressive place, and even had its own landing jetty for us to moor the dinghy on.

We then set off for Cawsand Bay, in the entrance to Plymouth harbour, a major naval base. Along the way we tried our luck at fishing and once again, caught a couple of great looking pollock for the pot.

We spent the evening on anchor in the bay watching the warships coming and going, before settling in for the night.

Codfather

My Dad had seemed to bring the wind with him, as we enjoyed a third successive day sailing on to Salcombe. Helena and I came here when we first chartered a yacht years ago. It was lovely to return to somewhere that we had great memories of only to have them reinforced the second time around. The mooring fees were reasonable, the harbour staff friendly, and as we were nearer the end of the season than on our last visit, the place was just a little less crowded and all the better for it too.

Our second guest for the week, Rob, joined us in Salcombe and we continued on to Dartmouth the next day. Rob, spurred on by my dad’s success with fishing, spent a fruitless day trying to catch us something for dinner – luckily we had meatballs on board so we didn’t go hungry. I guess he could have tried blaming it on the sunstroke that had caused him to collapse exhausted on the sofa that evening but I have proof that this was all faked:

IMG_1145

After being teased endlessly by my dad for being a crap fisherman, Rob gave it another go the next day as we headed for Lyme Regis. This time, with a change of lures, he managed to hook in nine small mackerel that we fried and ate with a fresh salad for dinner that night. Even Buxton seemed impressed:

DSC_4638

The last day’s sailing for this week was around Portland Bill and The Portland Race, a notorious stretch of water – this comment is straight out of the Shell Channel Pilot book and had what I expect is the intended effect on this reader:

Portland Race is the most dangerous extended area of broken water in the English Channel. Quite substantial vessels drawn in to it have been known to disappear without a trace.

After a lengthy study of the area’s tidal charts, some very careful planning, a full crew briefing, and a dose of seasickness tablets for all on board we set off to round Portland Bill. It would take us around four hours to get there, which should coincide with slack water. Our plan was to head further offshore if the conditions looked too rough. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried as the waters were benign enough for us to head much closer inshore than we had initially expected and we had a great view of Portland Bill as we rounded its southernmost point:

thebill

I’m currently sat in what seems like a much bigger, and a significantly quieter boat writing this blog. I ferried Rob and my dad ashore in the dinghy earlier this morning, and they’ll make their respective ways home from there.

Helena and I are now planning the remaining week or so of our journey. We will be in the Solent area getting a few maintenance jobs completed on the boat for the next few days. We will then head on along the south coast to our home port of Ramsgate to complete our circumnavigation some time towards the end of next week.

I think we both have quite mixed emotions right now. It’s a great feeling to be on the home straight, but its equally sad to think that this fantastic journey must soon come to an end.

Republic of Ireland

Last weekend we left Amalia in Dun Laoghaire marina and stayed at an old friend from university's place in Dublin. We packed a light bag for the weekend and a box with a cat in it too.

Nicola was, as ever, a great host and took us on a tour of the city, starting at the Guinness brewery where we took a walk around the exhibitions before enjoying the best ever pint of the black stuff in their sky bar with great views of the city:

We then walked around the Temple Bar area, eating in a food market and enjoying public art installations before retiring to a bar for another round of refreshments.

On Sunday the wind was up so we took Nicola out for a day sail around Dublin bay. She proved to be a natural at the helm. Check out her look of concentration:

Even Buxton seemed relaxed with her sailing skills:

We have now moved south again to Arklow and are assessing the weather for the next leg of our journey.

Finally, these caught my eye in the supermarket this morning – proof if you needed it that we are actually in Ireland:

 

The Western Isles – Part II

Well I guess in the inevitable has happened and we’ve finally seen some true Highlands’ weather!

On the night of the 29th we had a quiet evening with good weather at anchor on the Isle of Ornsay. The next morning we had a great sail to Malaig, even Buxton enjoyed it – listen out for him purring in this video clip:

Our friends Brian and Jayne travelled up from Kent to meet up with us in Malaig, and we all set off the following morning, to head back out to the small isles.

While en-route, a quick re-check of the forecast showed that it had changed significantly and that a low pressure system was now headed our way, bringing with it gale force winds and rain. The anchorage we were headed to would have been too exposed so we changed course and headed south to picturesque Tobermory on Mull where we knew we could spend some time ashore. We ended up spending three days there, giving us plenty of time to visit all the attractions and to try (two bottles of) the local distillery’s whiskey.

Here’s a great photo I managed to snap of a double rainbow during a downpour yesterday afternoon:

RainbowInTobermory

In case you’ve never seen it before, check out this YouTube clip of the guy getting very excited over a double rainbow. “What does it mean?”

This afternoon we left the shelter of the anchorage at Tobermory and set course for either Loch Spelve (if the wind did as predicted and dropped) or Oban (if it didn’t). This was our eventual track:

Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 17.14.43

As you can see from this, we decided not to go to Loch Spelve and headed across to Oban; here’s the reason why:

The video above was shot using my phone after we’d reduced both sails to the size of handkerchiefs, and started to head across the bottom of Loch Linnhe to Oban. This area was more exposed to the wind and swell coming in from the Atlantic and we had a consistent F7 for most of the way. The waves look quite harmless in this video but just after we stopped filming one caught the side of the boat and crashed over into the cockpit drenching me.

Rather than dropping as we reached Oban, the wind peaked to a F9 reaching 45 knots across the decks. Finally, just to add a little more spice to the mix, the local ferry started to follow us in but after a short VHF conversation with Brian, he very graciously agreed to slow down and give us time to get in well ahead of him.

Thankfully both Brian and Jane are very experienced sailors, and they’ve taken this week comfortably in their stride. They are great people and it’s been a pleasure having them on board and listening to their sailing stories from the years of living aboard their boat in the Caribbean.

Fish ‘n’ Chips

It was great to have so many friends all squeeze in for a going away supper this evening. It’s still quite hard to comprehend that we’ve just got one more week before we quit work for a couple of months and head off in the boat.

It was pretty tight, but we managed to cram eleven of us around the saloon dining table:

fishNchips1

and four kids out on the cockpit table too:

fishNchips2

Jacob avoided being in this photo in protest at having the most diminutive sausage. Well – there’s something you don’t often hear a lad admitting to!