From Malaga to Faro I am sailing along with Alex, his crew, and their HR36 Fitzroy. My highlights for this time are my first single-handed overnight passage, the river cruise on the Rio Guadiana, and the spacious lagoon of Faro with the island of Culatra sheltering it.
When sailors talk about single-handed sailing they mean to say they are sailing alone but using both hands. After we arrive in the Atlantic we set out from Barbate on our two boats to cover the 100 nm to Ayamonte overnight. I may be alone on board but Alex alerts me on the radio of ships that are close to me. My AIS system is not working at the moment and he is piloting me through the numerous fishing boats fishing off the Algarve coast at night in the fog. An absolutely magic moment for me is to sail through a giant school of tuna fish for one and a half hours! Of course, one cannot normally see them in the dark and fog if it weren’t for the fluorescent plancton in the sea. It emits light when activated by motion nearby. So all I see of the fish is their luminescent swirls through the water! Virtually impossible to capture on camera.
The Rio Guadiana is the border river between Spain and Portugal and together with the surrounding landscape a large natural park with many species of birds, fish, turtles, and old hippies. It is navigable by sailboat some 70km upstream - provided you manage to avoid the shoals… twice I run aground and have to wait for the flood to come in and let Moira float again. The second time close to Pomarao my boat heels by 35 degrees and cannot move on board without sliding. I am following captain Schettino’s example (think Costa Concordia disaster) and take flight in the dinghy and go ashore to have coffee, lunch and watch my boat straighten up again from the terrace of the restaurant. Luckily, just a few scratches on the bottom of the keel and rudder.
The tides with a range of up to 2,5m dictate the planning and we motor upriver with the incoming tide and use the ebb stream to move downriver and even in the anchorage you must take care that there is some water left under the keel at low tide!
In the shelter of Culatra island we anchor in the lagoon of Olhao and Faro together with what feels like another hundred sailboats. But there is enough space for everybody and on the beach you can walk for kilometers in the fine sand only meeting a few other people. In Faro I say my farewells to Alex and his father, who are leaving their boat on the hard for a while.
On my onw I sail along the Algarve coast with a stop in the great but expensive marina in Lagos from where many of the Portuguese explorers set out. Cape Saint Vincent is the furthest southwestern point of Europe and from here there is no more land for more than 3000 miles or 5000 kilometers in any direction!
From now on I travel up north on the Portuguese west coast beating into wind and wave until I reach Galicia. Right after the cape I am greeted by the open Atlantic swell of about 2m - no problem for Moira but takes some getting used to for me.
In Arrifana I meet some young, very likable, and very religious christian surfers. Travelling with their camper bus from surfspot to surfspot they want to live like Jesus. Was he a surfer as well?
In Sines (pronounced ‚sinch’) one anchors directly in the inner harbor bay and at the end of July is likely to end up in the middle of the World Music Festival. Here I meet an Irish couple and two Spanish cousins who have fled the summer heat in Madrid in their van. Together we listen to the Brazilian rap queen Flavia Coelho until 02.30am.
On the way to Lisbon and beyond it is surprisingly cool, fog moves in, and the water temperature is somewhere between 18 and 20 degrees C (about 65 Fahrenheit), and the air temperature is never higher than 22 C (72 F). I only go swimming in my wetsuit! The Portuguese are complaining about their cool summer weather, while the heat has struck central Europe.
Unfortunately, there is no time to visit Lisbon and I will add it to the list of places I sailed by. There are a few things to do on the boat and soon my friend Markus arrives and together we sail on to Vigo.
In the summer the wind on this coast is out of the NW or N, almost exactly on the nose. Sometimes we can motor sail at a hard angle to move ahead, but we must spend some days in the harbor of Nazaré to wait for wind and waves to settle.
Peniche: Fishing port with a small marina. The summer fest is on with fireworks, fairgrounds, food booths etc. Another highlight are the offshore Berlenga islands with their caves carved out of the rock by the sea. We can visit them with the dinghy. Great!
Nazaré: Has a somewhat tricky harbor entrance with waves smashing thunderously on the mole left and right as we approach. In the winter there are 20m (60ft) giant waves that some people actually surf on. Two meters is quite enough for me… Nazaré is a pretty fishing town and Sitio, the original settlement on a cliff overhang can be visited by funicular. The next day, we ride local buses and visit the great gothic cathedrals in Batalha and Alcobaça. The best gothic buildings I have yet seen!
Figueira da Foz: Not very attractive as a town but its marina in the mouth of the river is a very useful stop on the way.
Viana do Castelo: Docking alongside in a river with current and between two other yachts with not more than 2m front and back... this must be the most difficult maneuver of my entire nautical career so far. Apart from touching the stern edge to the dock all goes well. Viana is surprisingly likeable and we explore the old town and have dinner together with the Swiss couple that came alongside our boat.
Porto: The whole long trip to Porto we are motor sailing in fog. Only at the mouth of the Douro river it clears for a short while and we can see the entrance and the very nice marina beyond where we stay for two nights. We visit Porto in a tour bus and are impressed with its granite houses and their colourful tiles as well as the many bridges. Monsieur Eiffel was not only busy in Paris! In the fishing village next to the marina we eat very good and very fresh grilled sardines and squid.
Vigo: The landscape changes and the deep bays of the Galician Rias open up with their fronting islands protecting them from the savage Atlantic storms. Vigo is the largest city in the area and an important milestone. Markus is flying home and I am on my own for a few days. The bad weather forces me to lay low in port for a few days. Just as well, I have been travelling a lot in the past months and have seldom been in the same place for 2-3 days. Time to do boat chores and relax.
In 75 days we have covered some 1700nm or 3200km. A little more than half we were able to sail, for the rest we had to rely on our engine. This will hopefully change as we head out on longer ocean passages to the Azores, Madeira, and the Canaries.
Pictures click here.