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.


Astrolabe Sailing said...

Love the riding sail. Good to hear it makes a difference! What have you got it rigged on to? A backstay?

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks Astrolabe. Yes, it's on a backstay, hoisted with the mainsail halyard, a small sheet as a downhaul to the cleat, and we use our barber hauler as the sheet going forward to the middle cleat (just because it's the right length).