Sunday, 21 August 2016


We had been looking forward to Lagos.  This is a spot where many sailors winter-over and we have friends from Brittany who love this spot.  It is beautiful and the weather is perfectly hot and dry, the water is turquoise.  After our overly-physical departure from the Sagres Ensenada in the morning, we pulled into Lagos thinking the worst of our day was over (see previous post).  We were wrong.

The beautiful Algarve coast around Lagos.
The long welcome dock was full and we had to raft up next to another boat.  We missed the approach on the first attempt because the wind shoved us too fast and at a bad angle into the other boat and we had to rapidly put the boat in reverse to keep from doing damage.  Once in reverse, the wind and currents took us on a bizarre ride and threatened to push us over to the rocks on the other side of the narrow channel.  We finally got control of the situation and made a gentler approach, tied up, and checked in at the marina. 

Patrick requested a spot with good internet reception.  He still hasn’t learned.  This almost always means going deep into the finger berths and getting into a spot meant for smaller boats near the dock entrance.  I’m going to start announcing to marinas “we are an 11-meter boat AND WE DO NOT HAVE A BOW THRUSTER !!”  Our first arrival was just perfect, except that we were in the wrong spot.  We were in a spot for the many tourist boats that take people to visit the grottos.  We had to move.  The wind was 15 knots from ahead.  Patrick asked the marina for assistance to get into the slot next to us because it was a tight squeeze to back the boat out, and with stiff cross-winds, we worried about our maneuverability.  Two guys from the marina came out and expected that all they would have to do is shove us off and take our lines in the new spot.  Patrick backed the boat out and the wind immediately took the nose and pushed her over onto the boats on the other pontoon faster than we could react.  Once pinned against the other boats, their anchors scraping on our hull, there’s not much we could do.  People came running from everywhere, yelling, screaming, pushing, shoving, yanking.  We got Mareda off the line of boats and once into the middle of the fairway, the wind shoved her right back before we could even slam the motor into gear.  One guy asked if our bow thruster was broken.  Finally, one of the smaller tourist rib boats came out and took our lines and towed us free, and once Mareda was properly lined up and the motor engaged, we managed to pull into the assigned spot.  The hundreds of on-lookers from the terrace restaurants cheered.  We were traumatized and mortified.

In the end, there was no damage to the other boats, our gelcoat had a few superficial scratches, and the iroko-wood rub rail has a big gash in it, but it could have been much worse.  We hung our heads low and tried to make ourselves invisible for the rest of the day.

Our efforts were not even rewarded.  The internet was crap, the showers were cold, and we got blasted by “Karaoke night” from the bar next door.  For this, we’re paying 47 euros a night – the most expensive port so far.  We were so looking forward to visiting Lagos and now we can only think of how to slink out of here as soon as the winds calm down.  Yes, yes, I know: “Get over yourselves.  You’re not the first to screw up a maneuver; it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time.”  Easier said than done.  

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Cape St. Vincent and Sagres

This Cape at the southwestern tip of Portugal once marked the end of the known world and was the point of departure for explorations of discovery.  It has a bad reputation for wind and waves, exposed to the full force of the Atlantic and a confused meeting of the waters as you turn east towards the Mediterranean.  From Oeiras, we made the typical pilgrimage, traveling 50 miles down to Sines and then 60 miles around the Cape.  From Oeiras to Sines, we motored half the day and finished with 20 knots (typical) and from Sines to Cape St Vincent, we motor-sailed about 50 of the 60 miles, making it a safe and boring trip.  As we neared the cape, the wind picked up to 19 knots and we were on a beam reach with full sail.  As we only had a few miles to cover before pulling into the protected Sagres harbor, we just let out the sails with the gusts and rolled up the genoa just as things got difficult.

Helmsman Patrick making a wide turn around the Cape St. Vincent, Portugal.
After dropping the anchor, we duly congratulated ourselves and celebrated with a little bubbly (okay, it was beer, but there were bubbles-a-plenty).  We sailed our boat around the Iberian Peninsula!  It may be small potatoes for some, but it’s a major accomplishment for us.  Some sailors we talked to before leaving said they wouldn’t sail around this area because of its rough reputation.  One couple we met en-route got scared during a difficult passage and turned around to head back north.  We’ve been very lucky (and cautious) with the weather so far and it has paid off.  The most important thing is to not have a calendar and to not be in a hurry.  As the old saying goes, “sailors with no calendar always have good weather.”  I hope we can keep living up to this motto.

Mareda nestled into the protected Sagres Ensenada.
Sagres is the village established by Henry the Navigator to repair and supply ships destined for discovery.  History marks it as the site of a famous school of navigation, but our nautical guidebook says the existence of the school is an unsubstantiated myth.  The harbor is breathtakingly beautiful and is a wonderful first stop in the Algarve.  It’s everything we expected from the Algarve and the Mediterranean: cream-colored cliffs, turquoise water, sandy beaches.  We spent a quiet night at anchor and although the weather was supposed to turn blustery, we decided to spend another day and night in the harbor. 

French flag over the Sagres Fort and supposed navigation school of Henri the Navigator.
We took a few precautions to lie comfortably in the 20 – 30 knots winds forecast for the evening.  We moved closer to the beach to be more sheltered by the cliffs, dug the anchor into the sand and increased the scope to 5:1 (at high water, meaning that it’s about 6:1 most of the time).  With gusts roaring down from the cliffs, we also decided it was a good time to test my riding sail to keep the boat pointed into the wind and avoid the windshield-wiper swinging effect that strains the chain and makes for an uncomfortable ride.  We are pleased to announce that it was easy to install, and based on our motion compared to those of our neighbors around us, it seems to be working like a charm.  We still get a little bit of swing but the sail kicks in and pushes the tail back in line with the wind before the chain gets strained.  With my plastic shackles, it doesn’t make noise on the backstay as it tacks from side to side. 

The birth of the riding sail from Spray's old mainsail.  Posted this photo on 22 May on the Facebook page as I calculated dimensions and cut the sail.
My riding sail doing its job in the Sagres Ensenada.
The next morning, the gusts had died to around 10-15 knots and we were ready to head to Lagos, a short 16 miles east.  As soon as we hauled up the anchor and motored 100 meters back from the protecting cliffs, the wind started screeching through the mast.  27 knots !  We hoisted the sail with 2 reefs and tried to convince ourselves that it was just a local effect around the headland and that things would be different once we got out of the bay.  They were different.  We had 31 knots outside the bay.  The sea was choppy but with no swell and we were on a beam reach.  We put Mareda on the correct heading and eased the sail out to minimize the heel.  We were doing 6 knots with only the mainsail double-reefed.  After half an hour, things died down to a more comfortable 23 knots and we rolled out a handkerchief-sized patch of genoa.  As we progressed east, we could see dark clouds over the cliffs that came to a sudden end about 5 miles ahead.  When we got near this cloud break, the winds dropped from 23 knots to 6 within a span of 15 minutes.  We rolled out the rest of the genoa and proceed on to Lagos, shaken and perplexed but glad that it was over. 

Looking back at our nautical guides, we now believe what they say:  the effects around big headlands like Cape St Vincent can extend for 5 miles.  When you look at the grib files for the area (meteorological maps), you see very high winds around the Cape and light winds east of there.  Lesson learned: watch out for those headlands and give them a wide berth.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Oeiras and Lisbon

Note: we are currently in Albufeira, Portugal, a stone's throw away from Faro.  We hope to make it into the estuary of Faro tomorrow and enjoy a little down-time.  I am about 3 blog posts behind because internet is difficult to come by here. I try to give more timely updates on the Facebook page, but the details will have to wait.  Cheers, friends.

The Oeiras marina is only 5 miles away from Cascais but worlds apart in terms of attitude.  It’s a small marina that requires tight manoeuvers, and a reservation ahead of time is a good idea.  But the marina staff are almost excessively friendly and the price is unbelievable:  for a 7-night stay, the price averages out to about 26 euros a night, compared with 44 Euros in Cascais.  The transportation to Lisbon is a simple 15-minute walk to the train station and a 20-minute ride into Lisbon, which deposits you in the center of town.  The marina has a few restaurants around it as well as a good-sized grocery store within a 10-minute walk, and visitors to the marina are given free passes to the aquatic park across the street.  There are two beautiful (crowded) beaches within walking distance, a nice bike path, and … hang on to your hats…fresh bread is delivered daily to your cockpit.  We did miss the attraction of a town like Cascais, but in terms of a base for visiting Lisbon, Oeiras is hard to beat.

Beach near Oeiras Marina

Mareda, far right, Oeiras

The whale tail, symbol of Oeiras marina
Lisbon was a bit disappointing, in fact.  It was so crowded with tourists that we gave up doing a few things we wanted to do.  We managed to squeeze in most of the “must see” places and thoroughly enjoyed the Jeronimo (St Jerome) monastery.  Truth be told, we’re getting a bit fed up with religious edifices and fortresses.  We countered this by visiting the museum of modern art in Lisbon and got a good dose of secular bewilderment.

Vasco de Gama, RIP.

Close-up, Vasco de Gama tomb.
St Jeronimo's Ceiling

Not sure what these creatures were doing... can find all sorts of surprises at St Jeronimo's.

Augusta Place, Lisbon

St Juste elevator, to get to the Bairro Alto area of Lisbon without hiking up those hills.

Posted on Monday, August 08, 2016 | Categories: