It rained whilst we were in Cascais so after doing our food shop we had to wait out the downpour in a bar…hard times I know. Anyway it made me miss England and the familiarity of family and friends and the ease of day to day life without the language barrier! I love this foreign world we’re living in, but the UK is pretty alright too.
We decided we should do an overnight sail to give us some more experience in case we decide to do the crossing to the Canaries. We left at 11am with good winds, a bit of a swell running. We had a brilliantly bright moon lighting up the sky and there wasn’t much traffic around but the wind kept dropping. We’d played it safe by reefing before dark, which meant in the fickle wind the boat wasn’t as steady and the swell made it really hard to sleep so at 4am we ended up taking out the reefs and carrying on with full sail. I found it incredibly hard to stay awake on my watch but I really wanted to see the sunrise and managed to give Ben a couple of hours rest.
We rounded cape St Vincente and anchored of Baleeria at 8am, making our passage 21 hours. We slept for two or three hours but couldn’t relax as we could hear our anchor dragging across rock, so we pulled up and had a great sail along to Lagos. We treated ourselves to dinner out but the town was so packed, mainly Brits/Germans/Americans, we struggled to get a table anywhere. Both the swell and wash from the fishing fleet made for a frustrating night and Ben was up in the early hours devising an anti roll contraption! Basically a large weighted bucket hung off the spinnaker pole, that counteracts the side to side rolling by creating drag in the water…it worked brilliantly. Since using it we’ve seen a couple of other boats doing the same using their drogues.
Our electronic log told us we’d sailed 2000 nautical miles since owning the boat and we’ve been travelling for six weeks now.
I read an article recently by Beth Leonard, author of The Voyagers Handbook. She said this about relationships whilst living on a boat, and I really think it hits the nail on the head:
“Most voyages do not founder on anything as solid as rocks or shoals, but on the intangibles of human frailties and interpersonal dynamics. The sea finds all weaknesses: in boats, in people and in relationships. You have to be sure you have the skills to sail the boat, to fix it, to navigate, to get along in foreign cultures. But you also have to be prepared to come face to face with yourself, to discover things about yourself that you do not like and to work to change those things. You have to be ready to confront any weaknesses in your relationship and to address those in a situation where you are together 24/7 in sometimes highly stressful situations where your lives depend on one another. Cruising will not fix a broken relationship – it is far more likely to rip it apart along the fault lines. But where a basis of true respect and caring exists, the experience of cruising together can create a real partnership and eventually transform that into the kind of soul-deep bond that most people dream of but only a handful ever achieve. In the toughest times, when you think that you can’t do it or that your relationship cannot survive it, commit and commit again, knowing it will be worth every moment of doubt, pain and discomfort.”
Yep. Lack of sleep and personal space, mixed with occasional stressful situations can create a tumultuous atmosphere. They say you get to know someone by travelling with them; travelling by sail takes it to a whole new level! It will either make you, or break you.
Living together 24/7 in a confined space it’s easy for small things to become amplified. At home we always enjoyed our individual interests separately and spent a healthy amount of time apart. It became apparent within the first week or two of being away that Ben has little tolerance for wandering around food markets, which is one of my favourite things to do, or I’ll be quite content exploring old back streets and people watching over a coffee. So now I’ll go off and spend as long as I like perusing the local culture and amazing produce without feeling like I’m dragging him around. Likewise, he’ll go off to find the nearest surf spot without worrying I’m bored on the beach.
Meeting other people is also important so we get some social interaction other than with each other! After leaving Lagos we sailed across the bay and anchored off Ferraguda opposite Portimao. We met Rob who’d also been in Lagos, and he came over for a drink. It was good to finally meet someone our age and find out what his plans are for the winter (Senegal) and weirdly he’d been in the River Exe for a visit the previous year. Small world. He was a great help with our Navtex which gives us weather information, resetting it to only pick up the more local stations rather than EVERYTHING coming in, in all languages! We swapped some books and visited his boat the next morning on our way into town. I was very jealous of the heat his paraffin oven produced, which meant he could bake decent bread, our gas powered one not being very efficient. However paraffin sounds like a real hassle to use.
It was a long, hot walk from our dinghy to one of the bigger supermarkets in Ferraguda, and hard work lugging all the shopping back. I’m glad we don’t also have to rely on shop bought water as we fitted a UV steriliser in the tap, and that would be a real pain to carry any distance.
We ended up staying here at anchor for five days, our longest stop yet. We met a German couple Ursula and Alex who are planning to over winter in Portimao, and we’ve spent quite a bit of time with them having drinks, a meal out and at the beach. We took the dinghy one day and checked out the marina as a possibility to spend a couple of months in winter (yet another option previously not considered) then went to scout out what Portimao had to offer. I found a fantastic Organic Wholefoods shop, with adjoining café where we had lunch. It’s a nice place with pretty much everything you’d need, but our worry is out of season the marina would be too deserted and it’s a long way from the town…but it does have a gym and pool at the adjacent hotel you can use as part of the deal and the price is very competitive, but on the other hand we’ve already spent quite a bit of time here…making this overwintering decision is like brain ping pong at the moment.
We’ve had problems with our batteries holding charge overnight and Alex and Ben spent a morning trying to figure it out. It was possibly the freezer draining them, but these batteries are only 18 months old so it’s not entirely clear but at the moment turning the freezer down to fridge temp has helped a bit. To be honest we hardly use it for food, so at least we now have extra beer storage space.
We sailed over to Lagos one day for a change of scene and the water is much cleaner here compared to Portimao being in a river, so we got in and scrubbed the greenery and marine life that had started to grow on the hull. We also had the unpleasant job of unblocking our holding tank! I won’t go into too much detail but at some point lots of tiny crabs had been sucked into the tank, multiplied, and crawled up into the breather pipe and blocked it. I can’t even write this without my skin crawling, clusters and infestations of things really set me off. Anyway, dealing with dead crabs mixed with sewage waste is not the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon together.
My friend Jo lives in Vilamoura so we left Portimao anchorage to go and visit her. We had a very slow sail to Albufeira, but refused to start the engine. We tried to anchor twice outside the marina but it wouldn’t hold in the strange crumbly clay/mud bottom, so we had to go into the marina. It’s a real tourist trap like much of the Algarve and surrounded by lego like multi-coloured apartments. It was much smaller than we’d hoped and we had to moor up starboard side to, which with our prop walk makes for unfavourable manoeuvring options. Next morning after begrudgingly paying our 40 euro’s for a night in toy town we had to work out our exit strategy; how to move 15 tons backwards around a tight corner, with the propeller wanting to send the arse end in the opposite direction. So we set up a slip rope around the stern starboard cleat and with a gap in the wind Ben reversed into it, whilst I gradually let it out to give us a wider turning angle, keeping enough tension on to ‘spring’ us round. I was so nervous the wind would pick up again and blow us sideways. It went perfectly, but I’ll admit I had a bit of the adrenaline shakes afterwards, nothing like the threat of careering into someone else’s boat to keep you on your toes.
We had to motor the hour or so across to Vilamoura. We knew it was one of the more expensive marinas, but with no option to anchor around here when we paid for two nights we were shocked at 100 euros! Beans on toast for the next week for us then…the marina was packed with super yachts and we didn’t fit in at all haha! We had to squeeze into a berth between two flashy power boats and there were staff up and down the pontoons scrubbing and polishing the boats ready for the owners to use them. It was funny watching the staff zip around the marina with their dinghy’s full of mops and buckets. A different world. Anyway it was really good to see my friend and we had a nice meal out at a small fish restaurant beside the water, decked out with purple and yellow corrugated iron it was a world away from the over priced, flashy restaurants on the other side and much more our sort of place. You pay for your fish by the kilo, choosing it from a large counter at the bar, and we feasted on clams with garlic and fresh herbs, then salt crusted Dorado with a fresh tomato salad. Simple and delicious local food.
There are a stretch of tidal lagoons between mainland Faro and Olhao, bordered by islands, and we’re now anchored off Ilha da Culatra, arriving last night after beating into the wind all day. The tide pours in and out of the entrance here and even timing our arrival 1 hour before low water, it was an exhilarating ride in, with at least 5 kts against us. The water is really deep here and the force of it was like rapids, surging up against the breakwaters on both sides and pushing us all over the place. Ben thoroughly enjoyed himself but I was less keen as I’d been suffering with queasiness all day. The island has 3000 inhabitants, and no cars; just boats and tractors. The lack of concrete gives it a tropical feel, with all the little tile covered houses surrounded by sand. Last night we walked past a house with avocado and pomegranate trees growing in the front ‘sand garden’. This morning I was up early and sat on the deck watching the anchorage wake up; there were locals out on the exposed sand flats digging for clams I presume, and hundreds of tiny fishes jumping around the boat, with the occasional seabird diving in for its breakfast. It promises to be yet another hot day, but we’ve got jobs to do aboard, including fixing the dinghy outboard, catching up on emails and replugging the deck, before we go ashore this evening for a couple of drinks.
Whilst cleaning the bottom in Lagos we found that somehow the propeller has been damaged. It’s a bit of a mystery because as far as we know we haven’t hit anything. Ben thinks he can feel it causing a vibration when we use the engine, particularly bad at low revs, so we need to fix that sharpish before further damage. We were going to carry on East but now it looks like we might have to go back to Portimao, where there is a decent boat yard and chandlery. First Ben will take the prop shaft out and get it rebalanced, to see if that stops the vibration, then possibly try and dry out against a wall so he can remove the propeller and have it re shaped, or wait until winter when we’ll probably pay for a lift out as we’ll have other below water level work to do. Then the prop can be removed to be straightened out.
We are still undecided where we will spend the winter. I feel we’ve already spent too much time in the Portimao area but we’ve met friends who are staying there. Canaries we think are best left until next winter so we don’t miss out up this way. Just when I thought we’d made a decision on going all the way across the Med to Sicily we can’t leave until we’ve sorted the propeller problem. Greece/Croatia are too far to get to before the worst of the winter weather. The other option is somewhere along the Spanish coast, however I’m worried there won’t be an atmosphere there in the depths of winter. If we are to stay still for three or four months without the summer sun I at least want a social feel, and from what I’ve read Marina da Ragusa in Sicily ticks that box for a liveaboard community. The idea being we’d sail back across to this side before the hectic summer months next Spring, so still get to enjoy the Med, without the madding crowds and prices to match, but this all relies on the boat being fit to get us there and if it takes longer than the end of October it’s too late to go.
My brain is like a spinning top weighing up all the options and we’re going around in circles until we get to a boatyard and decent chandlery.
So for now, it’s back to Portimao we go…