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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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?

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Summer fog banks

It’s been a tricky few weeks working our way along the Portuguese west coast. There have been a few days with good sailing conditions and some wonderful destinations, but on the whole we’ve been motoring a lot more than we’d have liked, dodging gazillions of poorly marked lobster pots along the way.

We’ve grown to love our radar, and have relied on it to get us through the dense summer fog banks, made all the more interesting by the crazy fishing boats who don’t bother with automatic identification systems (AIS), and just motor around without a care in the world, not even sounding a horn to announce their presence.

In da fog

To help, we’ve made good use of MARPA (Mini Automatic Radar Plotting Aid) to monitor their whereabouts:

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The red triangles are dangerous targets which, once they’ve been manually identified, are automatically tracked by the radar which sounds an alarm if they get too close.

Here’s Helena adding targets while we both keep an eye out for anything we may have missed with the radar, like the lobster pot on our port side:

Look out

Even when we get close, and know that there’s a boat out there, it’s a relief when it is finally spotted and we know we’ve passed it safely. Can you see the fishing boat in this photo?

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Well that’s my whinging done – in my next post I’ll be a bit more upbeat I promise and will describe some of the lovely places we’ve found along this stretch of coast.

Crossing Biscay

We set off from Trebeurden in northern France on Wednesday morning and managed to sail most of the day under light winds. We rounded Ushant at the most north western tip of France just as the sun was setting that evening, then turned left and aimed the boat towards La Coruna in Spain. From there, the crossing took another two days.

On the first day there was very little wind and we motored all day in the company of dolphins. That evening, as Maarten was lighting the oven to prepare dinner, there was a deafening scream of airplane engines and we were buzzed by a twin engined plane that had dived down to take a (much) closer look at us. I don’t know a lot about planes, but it looked to me like the plane from Raiders of the Lost Ark except that it was grey, not silver, and had ‘Marines’ painted along the side. I don’t know whether it was in active service or if it was an older restored plane, but it was a pretty spectacular sight either way.

We were expecting about 20 knots of wind from WSW on the final day of the crossing so motored out as far west as possible whilst keeping clear of the traffic lanes and the big ships. Positioning ourselves this way would allow us to sail into the wind at a fair enough angle to reach La Coruna.

The next morning when the wind arrived it was stronger and more southerly than forecast. Under heavily reduced sails and battling confused seas in excess of 3 meters, we beat our way on to Spain. Our original destination of La Coruna was no longer an option unless we wanted to motor directly into the wind, so we made course for Ria de Viveiro instead – a wide natural harbour that we could enter safely in the dark. Feeling exhausted, we arrived there and set the anchor for the night just after 0100hrs the following morning.

We’d like to say thanks to Maarten, who joined us for this trip. He has sailed with us many times before with his family. It’s always nice to see him, and having the extra hands on deck proved invaluable given the conditions this week.

If you’d like to see more photos and movies from our journey, then take a look at our Facebook page.

Leaving England

We’re finally under way on our summer cruise to Portugal!

We set off at 7am from Ramsgate to catch the ebb tide in the English Channel, expecting strong wind and currents to take us south past Dover and Calais to our first destination: Boulogne Sur Mer.

And what a great day’s sailing we enjoyed. A solid F5 the whole way with wind speeds of around 20 kts and a current of almost 3 kts helping us along as we dodged the ferries outside of Dover harbour.

Our guests clearly enjoyed the trip. Patrice and his son, Ariel, were on board and at one point I though I might need a crow bar to get them off the helm. The autopilot didn’t get used at all but I expect this will change now that it’s just me and Helena on board again.

Patrice treated us all to some fabulous French cuisine at La Matelote which overlooks the beach in the evening. This morning he and Ariel left to catch a train back to Calais, and from there on to home in London.

Today, Helena and I have explored Boulogne. The heart of the town is a pretty medieval walled city with tight cobbled streets:

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Some of the shops were of particular interest for Helena:

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Tomorrow we will set off towards Dieppe where we hope to meet up with friends who are travelling towards the Channel Islands in their boat.