Flat Calm

I have decided we are destined to not have any decent sailing breeze. I know this trip was not going to be trade wind sailing, in fact a voyage heading north up the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula for much of the year sees boats battling directly into the Portuguese Trades and the current that the winds generate. However a huge high (1036) looks likely to settle over the UK towards the end of this week resulting in gale force north easterly winds off the north west corner of Spain for days. Meanwhile as that high transits north east wards the lows that surround it give rise to windless, overcast weather that can only be described as Eeyore like they are so grey and flat. Muggy with low visibility, motoring is the only way to make progress but at least the seas are calm so the speed is good.

Yesterday, Sunday, the sun finally pushed through the low cloud but too late in the day to generate a sea breeze. Having left La Linea at seven (GMT+2) we dodged anchored shipping, incoming cruise liners and departing ferries, then once in the strait turned west towards Tarifa as the dawn arrived. Despite our tidal calculations the current in the strait was against us all the way, peaking at two knots. Progress was slow but sure. Eventually around the southernmost tip of Europe, Temptress headed north west along the Andalusian coast. This, in the sun, is a beautiful part of the world with golden sandy beaches and huge dunes of Saharan sand covered in stubby, knarled green pines that look like bright green cotton wool balls squished together on the hills. On Sunday though it was hazy, grey. There were quite a few other yachts on passage, mostly heading south towards the Med. It being Sunday morning there were clusters of local day boats out fishing on the sand banks, most headed home around lunchtime.

We navigated the tuna nets at their offshore ends, the one off Zahara Atunes looked as if it had been gathered up, has the tuna fishing season ended here? Cape Trafalgar in these calm conditions was easy, we passed just a mile or so from the lighthouse. The trolling line started clattering out. Our first catch in months, a small Spanish Mackerel was more than sufficient for a tasty supper for two served with buttery garlicky boiled potatoes and broccoli. A second fish got away but as the suspension cables of the bridge at Cadiz appeared a third took the lure and was rapidly prepped for the freezer. We stopped fishing at sunset without another catch and altered course west towards Sagres and Cabo St Vincent. So far no orcas, no dolphins either which is a shame and only a few seabirds.

Three hours on, three hours off, after our recent sleep deprived travel, staying awake and then getting to sleep was hard. Shortly after the first watch change at 23:00, the skipper hauled out the genoa and for a few hours Temptress sailed. The course wasn’t great as we were heading into the wide Huelva Bay to the east of Faro and the speed was low at four knots but it was peaceful. Gradually the clear skies filled with the Milky Way hazed over, the lights along the coast to the north loomed along the horizon. A few fishing boats zoomed about. By 03:00 the firstmate woke the skipper in the middle of his off watch, the wind had all but gone. We furled the sail and returned to motoring. At breakfast time the motoring cone was hoisted (the Portuguese authorities have a reputation for fining yachts that don’t), the courtesy flags switched and the clocks changed to BST.

The cliffs of Sagres grew larger, then we rounded the headland to see Cabo Sao Vincent three or four miles further on. A catamaran appeared around the islet off the cape heading east towards the Algarve. The Atlantic swell was big, slow and well spaced, occasionally breaking on the rocks to the west. The lighthouse itself was clad in scaffold and sheeting, some of the walls of the accompanying buildings had been recently painted white, others were stained with Saharan dust. Then Temptress was round. On the western side, the swell reflected off the high cliffs making progress slow for a while. In the rather confused sea. We quietly celebrated the end of an eight year plus voyage that we hadn’t actually intended doing when we departed the UK, with a cup of tea. There’s still a good few hundred miles including the long passage north across Biscay before we reach home.

After eight years, nine months and twelve days, today Monday July 4th we cross our outbound track. Back then we rounded the south western corner of Europe, Cabo Sao Vincent enroute from Sines, Portugal to Rabat, Morocco. First though we had a whole morning of motoring westward in flat seas under a gloomy sky. By lunch time the sun finally started to drive away the clouds across the Algarve coast. The patches of blue grew and eventually Temptress too felt the sun’s warmth.

Our course lay ten degrees west of north as our next destination, Cascais lies a way out on the Cabo Raso headland a hundred nautical miles north west of St Vincent. The swell settled to a big roll as the coast eased away. I made a Thai Chicken curry using a packet of green curry paste for supper. Then after sundowners began our night watches.

At eleven when Susie came on watch the skipper was dodging fishing boats zig zagging across the sea. The latest one kept straying into our path for almost the whole of the next three hours. I not managed to shake him off when a large cargo ship appeared about 30 degrees off to port heading straight for the pair of us at an oblique angle. Uncertain of the fishing boats intentions, I decided to head west out to sea. Once Temptress was well clear of the dawdling fishing boat’s stern and across the bows of the cargo ship that was making 17 knots, I slowly resumed our 350 degree course.

We changed watches again at one in the morning on Tuesday and I was glad to be in my bunk where I slept soundly for the three hours. At five am, as I began my next watch, there was yet another fishing boat tootling back and forth yet roughly heading along our intended track. This time Temptress passed it slowly to seaward.

A combination of a sharply rising seabed which in turn generated confused seas, accelerated winds and the south flowing current, south west of Cabo Espichel made progress northward tedious, lots of bumping and jerking, the motion thoroughly unsettling. Temptress was managing only three or four knots over the ground. It was another grey, gloomy cloud laden dawn. Little progress was made, it seemed we were pushing uphill. Then level with the cape, the sea bed dropped away again and the wind acceleration effect diminished, although there was a good half a knot of current impeding progress, the seas were flatter and Temptress gained a knot or two in speed.

The grey dawn turned into a grey, foggy morning, the sea silver grey, the cloud dull. It’s chillier now than in the night. The fishing boats have gone to their harbours. On the cruise liner that passed us around five this morning, the passengers will be waking up to breakfast in Lisbon. We reached Cascais in time for lunch.

Ahead of us on the reception cum fuel pontoon in the marina entrance is a Volvo 60 filling cans with diesel. Once we’ve checked in and paid our dues, almost €160 for two nights, the big racing machine has left and we haul Temptress back to alongside the fuel pump. The pump itself confuses us initially with four buttons marked ‘10’, ‘1’, ‘l/€’ and a blank one at the bottom. The instructions are in Portuguese, not a language either of us have much knowledge of beyond basic greetings and ordering beers. Eventually we work out that before you remove the filler thingy you need to select either litres or euros and then a quantity. I opt for euros and a couple of hundred. The skipper puts the nozzle in the tank a second time and hey presto fuel flows. €200 is not enough so we go through the same process a again. Price shock doesn’t cover it – €378 gets us just shy of 180 litres of diesel. There’s no duty free fuel anymore for boats in Europe. With the high season berthing fees, €20 euro deposit for the gate card (that yet again we will not get back as the office will be closed when we go) and the cost of fuel, Portugal is proving expensive.

Then we motor round to our allocated berth, reverse in and tie up. A cold beer before lunch seems a good way to celebrate both our arrival and our circumnavigation. Afterwards we go for a walk to explore familiar territory and find some lunch, before returning to Temptress to catch up on some much needed sleep and eventually head out again for supper. Tomorrow our crew flies in and we expect to head out early on Thursday for somewhere further up the coast.

Ships log: La Linea to Cascais – 320nm

One comment

  1. Hi you two
    A lovely report. I enjoyed reading it.
    Did you pick up the fishing boats on the radar or was your observations in daylight I wonder.
    Glad to see all is well albeit the diesel wallet empties fast lol
    I am chilling at anchor in Grenada

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