Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Onto Spain (yes again!)

Ria Formosa to Ria Gaudiana (Ayamonte)

A nice leisurely sail east, we had south easterlies when they had forecasted northerlies but winds were light and sun was shinning.  Was quite interesting to come across our first tunny (tuna) nets, they stretched for miles but were thankfully well marked and visible so we were able to stay well clear.  We arrived in the Ria on a rising tide and it was running fast, as always we were looking to save money so attempted to anchor in the Ria, after successfully anchoring with a tide of 4knots running we settled down of the night but wasn’t a quiet one, the wind got up to 25 knots and the turned so we had wind over tide and the boat rocked all over the place for the entire night. We were glad when morning arrived and we moved into the marina ASAP!

Almost as soon as we arrived at the marina we were approached by some fellow cruisers who we had seen both in the Lagoon anchored behind us and sailing the previous day on route to Ayamonte.  They were from a boat called Cosmic Dancer and funnily enough about 10 minutes earlier Mark had mentioned that he recognised that name and was sure we had looked around the boat when looking to buy Magnum.  The owner of Cosmic Dancer had realised exactly the same, he had looked around Magnum when buying his boat! What a small world that 2 boats bought from Berthon in Lymington, England would end up in a small Spanish marina on the same day! It was really nice to exchange stories on what the boats had been doing since bought and plans for the coming year.  Cosmic Dancer was actually going to participate in the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) for those of you not sailors basically this is an organised crossing of the Atlantic which takes place every year, leaving the Canaries in November.  Also as the boat was British flagged and had looked lovely sailing with her spinnaker up, I had taken a photo and it was nice to give this to them as always difficult to get a photo of your own boat sailing without having to pay a professional.  I now wonder if our paths with cross again.

Cosmic Dancer

Ayamonte was only a day stop and because of the awful nights sleep we never managed much exploring just off to the Supermarket and quick look online – had wifi but limited, as always! 

Ayamonte to Rota

With a forecast of north westerlies and no wind for the remainder of the week we rushed off to get to Rota and Cadiz, excited that we were meeting Michelle and Ziggy at the weekend (it was only Tuesday when we sailed) and Alan, Karen and Daniel the following Tuesday (26th July).

We sailed 70 miles with variable amounts of wind so did have to motor for a couple of hours and Mark attempted the spinnakers 3 times, glad that we still arrived in exactly 12 hours.  We were both pleased it was a dolphin day and saw a pod of over around 50, kept us going for a while. 

Good news was that the Rota marina was one of nine marinas along the South coast of Spain that are subsidised by the government so only costs around 25 euros much better than the 45+ euros in the Algarve.  Rota is on the South West corner of Cadiz Bay and is a bit of a Spanish holiday resort but also has a large Naval Base which in the past was US but more recently is more Spanish.  Even though a tourist resort the town maintains a lot character and has not been developed in the same was as many of the AndalucĂ­a tourist resorts on the Mediterranean coast – where you find lots of Brits. .Again our travels took us along the promenade and then into the old town!

Rota Castilla 

Trying to stay cool in my BIG new hat
The volume of Spanish tourist was quite unbelievable and the beaches were absolutely packed, we were glad just to walk on by! 

After a hot night in the marina and the chance to use a washing machine – hurrah all my bedding is nice and clean!  We headed out into the bay to anchor just of the beach unfortunately for us due to the direction of the wind we were not very sheltered, winds were only very light but meant that we had a bit of a swell and yet another awful nights sleep!  We spent the day at anchor and enjoyed swimming off the boat; the water was the warmest yet. We also had a show from the Navy, it was obviously practice day and the helicopter initially went very low overhead and into the base. Then it came out into the bay around 200m away from us and started dropping people into the sea!! They were promptly picked up by a rib taken into the beach and the next lot were then collected from the base & it happened again, about 6X in total, no exactly a quiet morning in the anchorage but spectacular!

If you look closely you can see someone dropping into the water
We were back into the marina to get some sleep and also for the arrival of Michelle and Ziggy, we had not seen anyone we knew since April so this was fantastic! We had dinner on the boat whilst we warmed Michelle up to the idea of having a sail later in the weekend.

Dinner on boat
The following day Michelle picked us up to visit her luxury hotel and sit by the pool, unfortunately the sun had been scared away but there was still no stopping Ziggy getting into that pool! We had a lovely day catching up, entertaining Ziggy and basically relaxing, we even managed to go out for some Spanish food in the evening – a rare treat. 

Ziggy enjoying himself

Ziggy smiling (as always!) on bumper car

Then another rare treat Michelle came out for a sail, winds were light and we just stayed within the harbour but Ziggy loved it and it was really nice to enjoy time on the boat with other people.

It was sad to say goodbye but still hoping we will get to see them again when we reach Gibraltar.  Thanks so much to Michelle for such a big effort to visit, it was very much appreciated and so so lovely to spend time with them.

Rota – Cadiz

We were already in the Bay but we had short hop over to Cadiz on South West coast to wait arrival of our next visitors.  We had a day to get ourselves organised and after a long walk from the marina explored Cadiz town.  Cadiz is supposed to be one of the oldest (if not the oldest) cities in Europe, founded by the Phoenicians Full of history including the fact that the English have not been too kind to it in the past, we burnt the city down twice in the 1500’s. But lots of the old walls and fortifications remain.  Also the parks and streets have a large number of really old trees which were originally brought back to Cadiz by explorers such as Columbus and they have thrived in the Spanish climate.

Pretty park, spectacular old trees and parakeets!
City walls
Cadiz Cathedral
Alan, Karen and Daniel arrived on the cruiseship Oceana (July 26th) their first stop on a 2 week Mediterranean cruise. We had a really lovely day having a walk around the town, a trip to the beach (where Dan was turned into a girl!) where we all went in for a swim and a good catch up.

Dan is a girl!

Alan & his wonky hat

Dan getting tall!

Algarve hot & sunny


The wind had abated so we had a short sail east to Albufeira.
Another expensive marina so we did our usual trick of arriving late and anchoring just outside, then heading in 1st thing in the morning to make sure we get our moneys worth.

Magnum at rest in Albufeira Marina

We arrived on Sunday the day of the British F1, had a bit of a wander and the camped in a bar to watch the action. Unfortunately the bar served cheap beer so the afternoon is a bit of a haze but an enjoyable way to while away a few hours, we also ate out in the evening which is the first time since we left. Budget Blown !!! but not too bad as restaurants are good value in Portugal even in the marina.

Albufeira to Ria Formosa (Faro/Olhao)

Another short hop to the tidal lagoon at Faro. This is huge, think Poole harbour but maybe 3 times the size.

For the first few nights we anchored near Ilha Culatra and dingyed up To explore Olhao and the island of Culatra itself.
Olhao was small tourist resort seemed nice enough but difficult for us to really get to look around much with the pressure of the food shopping to get done and delivery back on the dingy before the tide dropped to low and we were unable to cross the Ria – Olhao one side and Magnum the other marsh land in between! 

We also took a trip up to Faro which is the other side of the lagoon, it was a bit twisty and turny to navigate, similar to Beaulieu river with withys (sailing term for tree branches) showing us the way. Managed to anchor just outside the channel at high tide and by the time the water dropped we were surrounded by meter high river banks and a range of seabirds (mainly herons and egrets), we were a bit disappointed not see any flamingoes but we had seen them flying overhead the previous day.

Our night at anchored proved to be interesting, one because we were only about a mile from airport and we plane spotted as they almost touched the mast – mainly Ryan Air – would not be my choice! Also because of the number of flying creepy crawlies, spent most the night scratching and worry about what might have found it’s way in!

We dingeyed into Faro the next day, pretty town particularly the old town. Funnily it was over-run by motorcyclists there was a rally and there were 100’s of bikes and bikers everywhere, funny to here so many English voices – long ride!

We celebrated our wedding anniversary that evening with a bottle of champagne with our dinner and a game of Connect 4, we know how to live it up!!

Mark in the moonlight

Monday, July 18, 2011

Windy Welcome to the Algarve

Sines to Lagos (Algarve)

This was our longest passage for a while and a bit daunting as there are no alternative ports on route, just high, daunting looking cliffs. So if it all goes pear shaped or the wind goes silly you are stuck with it.
So it was just Amanda, Mark and Magnum against whatever the Atlantic decided to dish out . . . gulp!
The forecast looked ok but we knew from experience that the wind along this coast is always strongest from 16.00 through to 19.00 and that at the last Atlantic headland, Cabo St Vincent would be stronger still.
We left at 06.00 and motored for the first couple of hours to ensure we kept on schedule for rounding Cabo St Vincent before 16.00. 

An early passage, sunrise of Sines

By 07.30 we had seen 3 different pods of dolphins and the wind had started to arrive. Next few hours we hurtled downwind in brilliant sunshine and crystal clear blue water. After about 8hrs we were within reach of the most SW point of Europe Cape St Vincent and we held our breaths as the wind was still a pleasant 20 knts from directly behind.
As we rounded the Cape Amanda got the video out to record the moment and took a 3 minute video. Just as she was putting the camera away the wind arrived !!!
In about 30 seconds to changed from 20knts to 35knts plus (gale force 8) and we still had full sail up !!!! A few scary moments later and we had furled away the foresail and put 3 reefs in the main, things were now back under semblance of control but we still had 4hrs left to reach a safe port and we had to turn across the wind, which dramatically increased our angle of heal.
The wind settled to around 30knts so we unfurled some of our foresail and had a fast but wet sail into Lagos

A wonky Cape Vincent

Our first views of the windy Algarve

Mark enjoying every minute round Cape Vincent

Getting windy


Lagos was a bit of an unknown for us as we have never been to the Algarve before. It was quite a pleasant surprise, touristy but still with character and loads to do and see. The rock formations along the cliffs are amazing and the locals run tours of all sorts, kayaks, ribs, glass bottom boats, scuba, dolphin watching and just about any method possible to part the tourist from his Euro!!

Imitation Galleon

Glass bottom hydrofoil
The marina was eye wateringly expensive, but the wind was still howling and there appeared to be little in the way of shelter along this bit of coast for us to anchor, so we stayed 2 days (€90+ ouch !!!!)
At that cost we had to leave after day 2 regardless and were just considering our options when Mark bumped into an “English” local. He recommended a small cove not mentioned in our pilot book that would give us good shelter from the northerly gale.
With a small amount of trepidation we set sail and were met with winds gusting 30knts at the harbour entrance. With a small scrap of headsail set we made good speed across the 10 miles to the recommended spot. It didn’t look too good on approach just more spectacular rock formations and lots of white water. As we got closer the headland opened up and we sailed into tranquil, crystal clear waters.

View from the top


We snuck in as close to the marked swimming area as we dared, dropped anchor and made ourselves at home for the next 3 nights.
We (Yes Amanda too!!) swam from the boat to the beach, and used the dingy to explore the rocks, caves and secluded beaches.
One beach we visited, which only looked accessible by sea, was beautiful. We loaded our snorkeling gear in the dingy ready for a day sunbathing and playing with the fish. We had just beached the dingy and dragged it clear of the water when Amanda spotted we weren’t alone. There were 2 naked men sunbathing in one corner, unperturbed we donned wetsuits and masks and headed for the water, before we had even got to the water another 2 naked men arrived……..
We had a dull snorkel as the water was too agitated to be clear, so returned to the beach to find it populated by naked men, we had obviously stumbled onto the gay pickup beach and it was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable !! Straight back to the boat for us …………….

Secluded beach

Gay Pride beach just over Marks shoulder

Beach at sunset, water was deeper than I thought hence water line mark on shorts !

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Still enjoying Portugal Atlantic Coast

Cascais to Sesimbra
We headed off early for a short trip to Sesimbra expecting a windless morning but luckily we had wind and sailed the 35 miles.  We were also treated to dolphins visiting us twice. The water was amazingly clear at over 200m and the dolphins loved our bow wave. The scenery on route was spectacular with huge cliffs and amazing rock formations – quite similar to the Jurassic coast in Dorset.

We really loved Sesimbra the marina was small, friendly, cheap and clean. We arrived on a Sunday evening (26th June) and there were lots of locals packing up there boats after a hot weekend but we were then left with peace and quiet.  We were about 30 minutes walk into the town but after a first walk in we decided to get the bikes out to make life easier.  There was a lovely long sandy beach and some of the old town lined the seafront with small shops and restaurants.  At the other end of the promenade there were a couple of large hotels but they were not too intrusive (like finger of fudge!) mainly for Portuguese tourist although we did see 4 English people!

We also had a bit of an adventure catching the bus into Lisbon from Sesimbra, takes about an hour and had been advised by marinas further North that Lisbon marinas were likely to be full with bookings and we knew they would have cost about twice as much. We had a busy day sight seeing in Lisbon trying to cover as much ground as possible on the underground and the trams.  Lisbon is the capital of Portugal (in case you did not know) and was bigger than we had anticipated, to make the most of it you could do with more than a day.  The main town was full of spectacular buildings and squares and old cobbled streets it was difficult to know where to go first! Plus it is on the bank of the Tejo River which is huge.

Tejo River

We also took at tram out to Belem a district in the west of the city with it interesting maritime history oh and we had McDonalds! We don’t even do that at home but starving and nowhere else to eat so had to be done! We firstly visited the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos which was built in 1500’s and was built to demonstrate Portuguese’s wealth after Vasco Da Gama reached India in 1499.  This was a hugely impressive building, where Vasco Da Gama is buried in the main chapel and then there are various other museums that are housed in the buildings.

We also visited the Monumento Dos Desombrimentos which was built 500 years after the death of Henry the Navigator and depicts many of Portuguese explorers.

Next stop was Torre De Belem again built in 1500’s to defend entrance of river, was once in middle of river but earthquake in 1700 moved the river bed! Quite an impressive building and how did it remain standing in the earthquake!

The only time I sat down all day!

Mark looking like a tourist

Another windswept day!

The final stop for the day was the Maritime Museum, bit of a shame we did not manage early in the day as we were both shattered and did a bit of a whistle stop tour but was huge and interesting that Portuguese had been such big explorers  - India (first trade route) Madeira, Azores, Madagasger, the list went on.

Legs were aching by the end of the day but our excitement wasn’t over for the day, when we finally managed to get back to Sesimbra one of the restaurants had the catch of the day on table outside – 10ft Swordfish, never seen anything quite like it.

National Park Arabida

From Sesimbra we headed East to a national park which had been recommended to us by a guy we met at Viano de Castello. It is a land and marine national park and has a pack of wolves living in the forested hills, there are a few houses along one end of the shore owned only by the very wealthy and the windy road along the mountainous shore is famous for appearing in the Bond film “On Her Majesties Secret Service” where Diana Rigg gets shot at the end!

Anyway he was right, it is a beautiful place, navigation into the anchorage was not easy as it is protected from the open sea by shifting sandbanks, so the only way in was to use a tidal channel 100ft away from the towering rock cliffs and with depths as low as 3m I had to brush up on my tidal calculations.

Once in and anchored we had a pleasant day relaxing and swimming to the beach (well Mark did, the water was too cold for Amanda). We were the only boat there and overnight we could hear the wolves howling from the towering cliffs above us.

Next day we inflated Daisy dingy and were going to head for the beach, when we were boarded by customs officials who checked our papers and then informed us that we had to move as we were too large to be anchored in the park boundaries. Luckily we only had to move about 200m further out and the water was still shallow due to the protective sandbank. The moving process would have been easier if we hadn’t hooked what looked like a massive rusted metal frame from the sea bed on the end of the anchor !

We had just moved and ensured we were safely attached to the bottom, when we could hear thunder in the distance. There was nothing in the forecast about rain, but rather than head to the beach as planned we decided to wait and see…….10 mins later we were hit by 40knt + winds and even with the protective sandbank the waves quickly built up, next came rain with the intensity of a hail storm. 

We had nowhere to go for better shelter and the visibility was too poor anyway so we had no option but to sit it out and keep our fingers crossed that our anchor held (whilst watching the people on the beach running for cover! ) It did and about an hour later the thunderstorms blew over and the sun came out again, by now the sea was to bumpy to stay where we were so we motored the 7 miles back to Sesimbra and had a night anchored off the beach being serenaded by a Portguese pub singer who warbled on for half the night !!!

Sesimbra to Sines

Nice little day sail of about 30 miles we left late to ensure the wind had swung to the Nth as forecast.
Cracking sail with a good breeze although as always the Atlantic swell built and built and gave us a few sweaty palm moments entering the harbour.
We anchored off for the 1st night to save cash and then entered the marina 1st thing in the morning to get our moneys worth !  Lovely little view.
Fort & too small to see statue Vasco Da Gamma

Sines is famous as the birthplace of Vasco da gamma (yes him again!) and we had a couple of days there food shopping, swimming and we even had a run !
Not a huge amount going on here but they did have the best pedalos in the world !