Sunday, 31 July 2016

Cascais and Sintra

The sail from Berlengas to Cascais was typical, trying to make the most of every puff of wind to maintain our speed, followed by 25 knots (with full sail) during the last hour into the harbor.  For a 50-mile journey, we only motored for 1 hour and maintained 5 knots, so we won’t complain (but those blustery arrivals need to stop!)

Cascais waterfront: superb houses and apartments, a commercial fishing dock, and crowded beach.

Not sure if St. Tropez has as much commercial fishing activity around the main beach.
Cascais has been called the St. Tropez of Portugal, and we’d been warned that the marina was outrageously expensive.  But having spent the last few weeks in modest marinas, we decided to splurge for one night before heading on up the river towards Lisbon. Our experience went something like this:

Marina Staff: “ … and the cost for you boat will be 36 euros per night.”
Us to each other: “wow, that’s not too bad… I was expecting much worse. Let’s stay 2 nights!”
Marina Staff: “… but now I have to add a 23% tax, which brings your total to 44 euros per night.”
Us: “er, um, we’ll be staying one night.”

Later that afternoon:
“This is really a rip-off.  The marina is large and quiet (no other fools around to fill the marina) but the showers aren’t that great and the internet sucks.  But we’re both tired and we’ve been pushing for the last month.  We’ll just stay 2 nights and then move on.”

Walking around town:
“Wow, this is really charming.  Look at all the little streets and arts / crafts shops!” 

Later the next day:
“What a market!  This is the best farmers’ market I’ve seen since we left France.  So much produce, fish, meat, cheese…and all top quality! WOW!!  Paradise!”  

After the market, sipping sangria in the market square:
“You know, we really are tired.  Maybe we should stay another day.”

Having coffee with a french couple now settled in Cascais:
“Oh, you must visit Sintra.”
Us: “We will.”  To each other: “Okay, one more day.”

After coming home from Sintra:
“We can’t possibly leave tomorrow.  We’re pooped and the tide to get into Oeiras means we have to sit out at anchor for 2 hours.  Let’s stay one more day.

And that is how a 1-night stay turns into 4.

Sintra was … interesting. We visited on a Sunday, which one such evidently never do.  The roads were so crowded that the buses were late running their usual tourist hop-on/hop-off circuit and planning anything was impossible.  We went from the train station to a bus to get up to the top of the Moor’s Castle.  This was the highlight of our trip.  Lazy photo-journalist confession time again -  you can look up the history of this area if you’re interested.  Next we walked up to the Pena Palace, which was so kitsch and over-restored that it felt like a Disney exhibit.  We hopped back on the bus for a descent into town, walked around a bit, and waited for a bus that never materialized to take us to the train station.  In all, we spent most of a very hot day riding buses and trains.  It’s hard to imagine what Byron saw in the place.  Sometimes heavy-handed restoration and being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site can ruin a place.

Moor's Castle, Sintra, half-way up...

Pena Palace from Moor's Castle

Pena Palace, not Disney land.

Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2016 | Categories:

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Nazare, Berlengas, and a Predicament

The trip from Fig da Foz to Nazare was disappointing as the expected 12 knots of wind never materialized and we ended up motoring most of the day.  (Like a friend jokes: “everyone talks about apparent wind… I’ve been sailing for over 30 years and I’ve never seen it…”) 

The Club Naval of Nazare has a nice marina although the shore-side facilities are very basic.  A 15-minute walk into town brings you to a lively fishing port that has turned into a summer resort area.  Not only has Nazare not forgotten its traditional fishing past, it has integrated it into modern tourism.  (See photos… very surprising!)

Nazare Beach

Widow selling dried fish and octopus (to whom and for what remains a mystery...)

Yum !

The last traditional fishing boat to work the area.  Tall noses means big swell.

Nazare ladies knitting and renting out their apartments to tourists.

Fish drying in the sun on Nazare beach.

Just can't imagine what one does with dried octopus...

We stayed in Nazare just long enough to rest and resupply and then headed down to the Ilas Berlengas, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a supposedly excellent mooring to avoid the dreaded Peniche marina further down the coast.

We put up the main and the genoa for the short sail to the islands and when the speed fell below 3 knots, we fired up the Yanmar.  A moment of inattention (adjusting the solar panels) led to disaster.  I was down below writing in the log and I heard a clunk against the hull.  A few seconds later, I heard a panicky “Merde !” from on deck. 

I jumped out onto the cockpit and saw a fishing pot being towed behind the boat.  We quickly put the motor into neutral and rolled up the genoa, then let loose the mainsail to stop the boat.  For the next 10 minutes, we tried everything we could to push the line off our port-side rudder, even breaking our beloved “moor fast” boat hook.  I was getting ready to dive into the water to pull it off manually (stupid, stupid idea…), when it dawned on us that we should just cut the bloody line.  I know it’s not nice for the fisherman, but I wasn’t going to take any unnecessary risks.  The line cut easily, but was under too much tension to hold and tie to the floater with the flag on it, so we just let it all go.  We noted our position with the GPS and emailed Nazare marina with the details.  In France, the fishermen sometimes request payment for such damages.  So far, no news.

We quickly forgot our worries as we realized the boat was fine and a pod of dolphins came out to play.  That just never gets old, no matter how many times you see it.

Dolphin escort to the Ilas Berlengas

Berlengas was beautiful but disappointing.  The nautical guide said we could drop the anchor in 7 meters of water.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a field of mooring buoys for local fishermen and tourist boats.  A traffic zone had been defined between this mooring field and the coast, and there was no possibility to anchor in less than 15 meters of water (safe mooring means putting out a length of chain equal to 3 or 4 times the depth).  We only have 40 meters of chain so we did what we could, knowing we would stay on the boat (and I would stay nervously in the cockpit most of the afternoon).  We realized we couldn’t stay the night like that, and I finally hailed a local tourist boat and asked if we could use one of the mooring buoys for the night.  He pointed out 3 buoys that were appropriate for larger boats like ours and said we could tie up from 6:30 p.m. to 9 a.m.  Other boats evidently knew this as well and by the time 6:30 rolled around there was only one mooring buoy left and it was rather exposed.  We spent a very lumpy, rolly night at anchor and left earlier than planned for the long hop down the coast to Cascais.

Panoramic shot of Berlengas ... click to expand.

Homework in paradise, planning tomorrow's sail...
And now we are in beautiful Cascais (one guide book calls it the St Tropez of Portugal!), and looking at the calendar to see how to organize our time in the Lisbon area.  If weather is no limitation, we should be in good shape for making it to the Algarve by the beginning of August, our self-imposed-for-no-real-reason schedule.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Figueira da Foz and Coimbra

The anchorage in Sao Jacinto / Aveiro was calm, which we later learned was lucky for us, as friends who arrived the day after us complained of noise from the local disco.  It’s clear that this is not a river to be entered in anything but calm to moderate conditions, and a few days later when the fog rolled in, we heard a navigational warning that Aveiro was closed.  We left with moderate northerly winds and flew the genakker for several hours until the wind strengthened to 19 knots.  Curiously, with the full main and the genakker, we were only doing about 5.5 knots of real speed over the water.  I suppose we may have been blocking the genakker too much with the main and probably should have poled it out, but it stayed full so I never thought it was a problem.  Normally we roll up it up when the winds get up to about 15, but as we were sailing downwind, we really didn’t feel that much “stress” on the sails or the rigging.  When we went to roll it up, it whipped around like mad even though we tried to shelter it behind the mainsail. We still have a bit to learn about our dear genakker. 

We finished with 25 knots and flat seas as we rounded up into Figueira da Foz, a nice town and marina (although the visitors’ docks are beginning to be rotten and somewhat dangerous.)  Fig da Foz has a wonderful covered market just across from the marina and we loaded up with fresh fish, meat, fruits and veggies, and were even treated to a 10-minute show by a Korean dance troop visiting the area.  We can’t say we really saw much of Fig da Foz since our interest in going there was to use it as a staging ground to visit Coimbra.

Coimbra skyline.
The city of Coimbra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the scene of Muslim and Christian clashes from the late 800s onward, a roman stronghold, the first capital of the Portuguese monarchy, and the site of one of the oldest universities in the world.  The thing we wanted to visit most, the library, was amazing…and taking photos was forbidden.  You’ll have to take our word for it and look it up on the internet.  Interesting fun facts: it was designed to maintain a constant temperature of 18-20 C, no small fete in the Portuguese summer.  The walls are 2 meters thick, the door is made of teak wood, and the interior is made of massive oak, both good for resisting humidity and for giving off an odor that insects don’t like.  An added measure to keep down the insect population was to cultivate a small colony of bats that live inside the library.  (Nope, didn’t see them or their droppings…). 

University of Coimbra Library entrance.

Entrance to University square.

University Palace and Tower.

Chapel, tower, and palace.
Wandering through the old town, you become quickly overwhelmed by the number of cathedrals, stone arches, and winding cobblestone streets.  All of the cathedrals and religious monuments start to blend together in your mind and we began to get a bit saturated.  I took numerous photos of various religious sites only to realize later that, without any sort of context, they become pretty meaningless.  But I’ll just throw up a bunch of photos here and you can experience it the way I did…no context !

Baptismal font, St Mary's.  Dead guy in the background...

Giant clam shell from the Portuguese Indian Ocean expeditions used for holy water.

Rest break in St. Mary's cloister.

St Mary's, founded 1139.

Organ, University of Coimbra Chapel.

Ceiling, painting on wood, University of Coimbra Palace.

University of Coimbra Palace hall.

View of UC palace tiles from the tower.

We left the next day for a 35 mile hop down the coast to the fishing town of Nazare, then to the Berlengas Islands, and then to Cascais.  I’m a wee bit behind in blogging.  Will post as soon as time and connection permit.  Tomorrow we’re off to visit Sintra and then we’ll move up the river a bit to a cheaper marina for a few days in Lisbon.  Stay tuned !
Posted on Saturday, July 23, 2016 | Categories: ,

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Povoa de Varzim and Porto

We left Viana with 12 knot winds that progressively died off as we worked our way down the coast.  The wind was from behind and with an anticipated jibe every few miles we decided not to put up the gennaker.  As our speed fell to below 3 knots, we broke down and lit up the motor to give us a little push.  The wind picked up again an hour later and we managed to sail the rest of the way down to Povoa de Varzim.

Fifteen minutes after pulling into the small marina of Povoa, we ran into friends we’d made two years ago in Viviero.  This is one of our favorite things about sailing.  This particular coastline is great for making new friends, since people are either heading north or south, no other choice.  There are fewer French boats now, since we are in the general area where French sailors who are only out for one season need to turn around to head home.  We realize how lucky we are when we see boats arrive in the evening and take off again in the morning, often despite poor weather.  What a luxury to have no calendar to obey.

Mareda in a windy Povoa marina.

Shades of Brittany at the beach near the Povoa marina.
Povoa is a good-sized town with a very nice farmers market in town, although it’s a 20-minute walk from the marina.  What strikes one most about Povoa is the fancy high-security facilities: there’s no code or magnetic card to get into the marina or docks but a digital finger scan system!  This looks like a great place to lay up for the winter – lots of room to store the boat on the hard, good security, good transportation.  The Porto metro has a terminal station in Povoa and it’s only a 50-minute ride into town (and about 25 minutes to the airport). 

After chatting with other cruisers, we were convinced that Povoa was the best place to visit Porto.  We had planned to go down to Leixoes, which is closer to Porto, but apparently the port is filthy (both air and water) and we were told the boat would be covered in black soot within 24 hours.  Povoa is very cheap (18 Euros / night for a 10-12 m boat) and we’ve got wireless internet directly on the boat.  The showers are excellent, we eat well, we’ve got friends here, and we’ve got Porto at our doorstep. 

We made one day-trip to Porto and realized that we needed more slow time to really enjoy it, so we decided to spend a night in a hotel in Porto.  Porto has a lovely shabby-chic / cheap and cheerful vibe to it and we enjoyed winding through the (hilly!) streets and soaking up the atmosphere (…and a bit of porto wine!)

...and our nautical guide said to be sure to wash your hands if you handle your boat lines that have touched the water...
We went to Lello’s bookstore, one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and supposedly the inspiration for the interior decor of Hogwarts school in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  I only lasted 15 minutes.  Even at 10:30 in the morning, it was packed with people and you had to be very quick to get a photo of the place without shooting the head of the tourists in front of you.  Upstairs, the air was unbreathable, and you can forget trying to actually look at the books. Do yourself a favor and save the 3-euro entry fee.  Just look up the pretty pictures and history on the internet.  We did give the Majestic cafĂ© a miss, though.  It was lovely but we’ve sipped over-priced drinks in many lovely cafes throughout the world (Paris, Vienna) and thought we could do without this one.

Lello's overcrowded bookstore
Lello's staircase.

The wind has been raging for the last 3-4 days while we’ve been visiting (32 knots in the late afternoon) but will calm tomorrow to a more manageable 5-15 knots for the next few days.  We will head down the coast to an anchorage in Aveiro (actually San Jacinto) tomorrow and then leave the next day to go to Figueira de Foz.  We’re both eager to move on after a 7-day stop.

Buying Dona Antonia Ferriera reserve, Porto.

Posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 | Categories: ,

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Viana do Castelo

Bom dia Portugal !  

Bom dia, Portugaaaaaaaal !
Like many cruisers, our first stop in Portugal is Viana do Castelo, one of the ports of departure for the great Portuguese voyages of discovery.  The port is quite small but functional, with a waiting dock outside a swing bridge that is opened by the marina staff.  The port was full when we arrived, with visitors on the waiting dock 3-deep.  I called as we entered the channel and they told us to come on into the marina and they would find us a spot, probably tied up alongside another boat for the night.  Our good fortune was that, at the last minute, they decided to send us all the way to the far end of the marina and gave us a spot on the dock next to small local boats, and one of the only spots in the marina that is not on a lazy line with stern-to-dock moorings.  At low tide in a period of high tidal ranges, there is only about 1.70 meters of water here, but no problem for Mareda and her lifting center board !  Cost for a 11 m boat = 28 euros / night.  We’re just below the metal bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel, which adds just enough charm to make it tolerable when the train passes overhead with a deafening clatter.  They don’t cross too often and don’t run at night, so we’ve managed to ignore it most of the time.

The first day in a new country means finding a local telecom company and getting a new chip for the smartphone so that we can have internet connections (email, weather…).  We were gobsmacked to discover that we could buy a chip and 1 month / 2 GB internet service for 5 euros!  We kept hassling the girl, trying to find the catch, but it seems there is none.  Welcome to Portugal.  The same set-up cost us 40 euros in Spain.  We’re beginning to understand why so many French retirees choose to live in Portugal.  (** update:  the telephone situation was too good to be true.  The girl selling us the card sold us the wrong thing.  Getting it straightened out ended up bringing the cost back in line with Spanish costs.**)

We met one of these retired sailing couples who gave us a great address for lunch:  Casa Primevera (or Taberna Soares, depending on who you ask) in the old town.  It’s a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a larger room behind.  You eat family style on large picnic tables or on smaller tables in the back.  The menu of the day was fried sardines (huge as your hand) or gizzards, served with rice and black-eyed peas.  We didn’t know this before it arrived (we just mimed 2 plates of the lunch special), but it was delicious.  Two big plates of food, beer and wine, coffee, and desert for 7.50 euros.  When they bring your coffee, they also bring a bottle of whiskey and eau-de-vie so you can spike your coffee or have a little “push coffee” as we say in French.  No charge.  What a country!

The old town is charming and larger than we imagined.  We took the funicular lift to the St Lucia Basilica and wandered through the streets most of the afternoon.  There’s a large grocery store (Froiz) in town and we loaded up for the next day or so. 

The weather is hot and dry although there’s a chance of a thunderstorm tonight.  The winds are still very light tomorrow so we’ve decided to stay another day and head down the coast on Thursday, where we’ll be within easy bus or train range of Porto. 

National Geographic has labeled Viana as one of the most beautiful panoramas. Click on the photo for larger size, although you'll have to use your imagination to see award-winning beauty.