April 2002 – Heading North Once More

Sunday evening, the last day in March, Richard joined us for dinner at our favourite Vilamoura restaurant �Perna de Pau� (translates as something about pirates but literally means �leg of wood�). Dark wood panelling, silver service from cheery staff and good food make this place a bit of an oddity in this brash tourist resort. The following day Richard and Kevin were up early to drive to the airport to pick up Annie and Nick who�d been up even earlier and flown out to join us for eight days sailing! Lured by our reports of sunny Portugal they picked the wettest week imaginable, made worse by the fact that the high pressure which should have been sitting over the Iberian Pennisula had drifted north to the UK. London was warm and sunny but the Algarve certainly wasn�t. Perhaps you shouldn�t start your holidays on April Fools day?

Tuesday 2nd April saw us heading for Portimao, at this point it was actually sunny with light winds from the direction we wanted to go. At lunch time the top of the mainsail began to flap oddly. Taking it down we realised that the top batten (a carbon fibre rod) had disintegrated at one end. Meanwhile in yet another embarrassing moment, as Nick had tacked the boat so we could bring the sail down, our fishing trawl somehow wrapped itself around both rudder and keel � nice one!  The jib was furled and we drifted for a few minutes whilst Kevin used his brand new wetsuit for the first time and soon had it sorted out. He claimed the water wasn�t too cold but it is the Atlantic and it is April so we didn�t feel tempted to join him.

During the afternoon the wind rose to a F7 still from the north-west so having not made much progress we decided to call it a day and return to Vilamoura where at least we could get a new batten. Back in the same berth in time for supper. The following day Will opted out of walking to Quarteira for lunch. Four of us ate a huge fish and loads of the garlicky, butter new potatoes that the Portuguese love before venturing back into the wind with 3 litres of assorted olives (can Annie or Kevin explain their impulse buy?)

Everyone was determined to do some sailing what ever the weather so when Thursday dawned grey but calm we made an early start west for Lagos. This was despite the fact that three of the crew had only been to bed at 2am having spent the evening in various karaoke bars. Nick made porridge for breakfast � the first we Mediterranean-ites had had this year. Eventually the rain started and it continued for most of our time in Lagos. It was so heavy that the usual first Saturday of the month gypsy market was curtailed to just a few disappointing stalls. Annie and Susie found the farmers market in town more fun and bought carrots and other veg as fresh as if we�d picked our own. Autumn Breeze was in Lagos still and it was good to see Pat and Angie again. They too weren�t happy about the weather as they had planned to spend the week varnishing. Nick and Annie explored the town whilst Kevin and Susie caught up with old friends. Kevin took himself off on Saturday afternoon to watch the rugby in Luis�s � it is amazing how quickly we fell back into the pattern of life we had had here back in November and December.

From Lagos we retraced our steps and visited Portimao � a place Temptress hadn�t been to before. It was blowing a hooley as we approached the entrance close to high water. The waves were breaking right over the breakwaters so that the light towers were disappearing in the spray. We�d only covered less than eight and a half nautical miles but it felt like many more with winds gusting at over 44 knots. And of course it was pouring with rain for the whole trip. Temptress of Down surfed in between the protective walls and then motored up the river where two marinaros expertly caught our lines before we blew away. The marina is very new, building it still going on all round, in the basin there were few boats but the staff were friendly. The next day we took advantage of a brief period of sunshine to explore the town. Portimao is not really a tourist town although Praia de Roche nearby was the first Algarve resort back in the 60�s. Most of the main shopping streets are narrow and pedestrianised. We found a very odd supermarket which appeared to have a lot yet managed to have nothing we needed. The veg section had probably seven or eight varieties of apples but no onions nor could we find cup-a-soups. The meat shelves wouldn�t yield up enough chicken portions for five for supper, yet there was a comprehensive selection of electrical kitchen gadgets and a large booze section. However a short walk away we found most of the provisions we needed and then stood in the warm sun waiting for a taxi.

Monday morning was rather grey again but not too windy. Annie chatted to the old fellows getting ready to take the boat alongside us to sea � the crew had a combined age of over 350 years and the �baby� was a mere 65 years old. Their banter was reminiscent of �Last of the Summer Wine�. Off they set only to return a few hours later as the �baby� was seasick! After lunch we bade them farewell and headed for Vilamoura once again. Annie and Nick were to return home on Tuesday, Temptress was to be repaired and we were going to Marina Del Este on Wednesday.

First the repairs � before leaving Barbate Kevin had booked Temptress into the yard at Vilamoura for the work to take place. In Rota we had been able to look under the transom and found that much to our surprise the damage was mostly confined to the edges and the upper surface of the lower step. It appeared to our inexpert eyes to be mainly superficial although we had some fears of crazing or cracking underneath. In Vilamoura the French �fibreglass man� Martin confirmed had that it was mostly superficial and amazingly said he could repair it without recourse to an expensive lift-out. The only difficulty would be matching the gelcoat colour � Susie always thought that white was white but no, this was Jeanneau 1992 white � Martin had contacts and thought he could find some. Meanwhile our bedraggled spinnaker was finally offered some TLC by Doyles sail loft and we ordered a sock for it so that the anchor-wrapping incident (back in January) wouldn�t be repeated. The spinnaker would live inside the sock until after it is hoisted. Once up, a string is pulled and the sock gathers at the top of the sail. To take the sail down you reverse the process � lowering the sock to snuffle the sail (hence the sock is also known as a snuffler) before lowering the whole lot to the deck.

We accompanied our guests almost to the airport on Tuesday getting out at the Avis office to pick up a hire car that needed returning to Spain. After washing, packing and cleaning our boat we left her for the first time since last December and drove towards Malaga and Marina Del Este. Our home for the next week was to be Dolfijn, Richards Swan 38. We were taking a busman�s holiday to deliver it to Barcelona. The weather continued to be rather grey and except for a couple of days in Almerimar there was little wind so we motored most of the 477 nm. It was rather odd navigating along coasts we were familiar with. We stopped over one night in Garrucha � it was late on Saturday when we arrived and raining. No lights showed in the office. We left as planned around 7 am the next day without seeing anyone. A couple of days later we headed into Denia for provisions � again it was raining and again this is a partially built marina but everyone was friendly. From there we motored straight for Barcelona.  The sun came out and the water was covered with blankets of tiny jellyfish with purple-y transparent �sails�. The following day we spotted whales � probably fin whales and stopped to motor slowly round the odd looking sail-fish. It looks like the front foot or so of a dolphin and has a tall thin fin which it holds up out of the water.

We text�d Richard � �how high mast?�. �Ah well� the luff of the sail is 45 feet� : so probably 16 or 17 metres was the consensus of opinion. Dolfijn just had enough clearance for the Barcelona bridge (18.5m max) and we were soon tied up alongside in Port Vell. The delivery crew hosed the decks, put the covers on (Richard inherited canvas covers for virtually everything), cleaned and packed. After supper in a restaurant with an identity crisis � rural d�cor meets gilt mirrors meets techno music we had an early night. The next day a taxi to the airport got us a Portuguese car from Avis and the three of us set off on the long drive home. Our route took us right across Spain. The scenery was fantastic and ever changing the first day – we managed to reach a Parador some 100 miles south of Madrid. Friday April 19th found us firmly on the Plains of Spain (where the rain mainly falls) � it was boiling hot and the air conditioning didn�t work. The autovia was dead straight and pancake flat for probably 50 miles. Driving was almost as boring as motoring a sailboat in a flat calm across the Channel. Eventually we crossed into Andulucia � the autovia splitting into two. Our side followed the old road curving along the gorge side and the other was elevated over the river in the bottom hundreds of feet below us. The views were spectacular and only in Spain could viewing points be provided on a motorway! We crossed the border into Portugal on the now very familiar E1 route and then found a lunch stop. It advertised itself as a restaurant but looked shut. The entrance was not the main door but a barn door a little further along. Once inside it was cavernous. The first area filled with plastic garden furniture and a large wood burning grill. Next came a bar on the left and the kitchen on the right. Beyond some large baskets displaying fruit and veg was a huge barn with seating for over a hundred. A few lorry drivers were the only occupants. We sat at the checked cloth covered table near a large fireplace. The food was superb � frango piri-piri cooked on the aforementioned grill, chicken and mushrooms in a creamy sauce (tasted more like garlic accompanied by chicken and mushrooms), grilled pork fillets all served with chips. We didn�t need to eat again that day.

After sailing (or rather motoring) long days last week the crew decided just to relax. We collected our newly repaired spinnaker and hoisted in the early morning calm to try out the sock. Martin finished off the transom � the colour match was perfect and it all looks as good as new. It was a little more expensive than expected � to be exact, double what we had originally been told – but still so little that it has proved not worth claiming on our insurance. It is very hot and sunny � the high has returned to its more usual location and we had nice easterlies so soon we should head off west. The three of us spent an couple of hours planning possible stops up the West coast of Portugal. The more settled Spring weather means that we can visit some of the anchorages that would have been untenable in the Autumn gales.

Lunchtime on Monday Temptress took advantage of the easterly wind and with the 2nd reef in and the jib poled out she headed off on the 80-90 mile trip round Cabo Sao Vincente to Sines (pronounced Si-nesh). Various reports of this harbour had been received � the Rough Guide says Vasco De Gama would turn in his grave if he knew what his home town was now like, the RCC Pilot Guide claims it to be a �pretty town�. After a fast passage we dropped the hook in the early hours of the morning when it was still dark and retired to our bunks. In the morning the beach and town above it proved �pretty� with white and blue traditional buildings, the obligatory fort etc.  But to the east are an oil refinery and chemical works and to the west is an oil terminal so the wider view was not so good. The approach by car must be horrendous if the smell when we sailed up the coast north of Sines the following day was anything to go by � rotten cabbages had nothing on this and we were several miles out to sea.

Wednesday was spent motoring in blazing sun � we weren�t surprised to find when we arrived in Cascais that the Lisbon forecast was for 29�C that day. For the last hour or so, as we approached Lisbon, the breeze was sufficient to sail at a spanking pace across the bay. Behind us the Portuguese Navy were going home for tea � eight or nine warships like a row of ducks making their way up the channel and into the River Tejo. That night we were pleased to be able to sit outside the Jardim do Frango  (the Chicken Garden) restaurant to eat, as it was still too warm to contemplate indoors. The following morning seemed to offer more of the same. Totally calm with a forecast for F3-4 for the northern quadrant. By 9:30 Temptress was filled up with diesel and we were motoring through the maze of lobster pot buoys towards the headland west of Cascais. On the horizon the Skipper spotted breaking waves � Susie checked the chart � nothing dangerous to report. We carried on and as the boat rounded the corner someone flicked a switch � it was blowing Northerly F6-7 with 2-3 metre high waves and further ahead we could see a thick bank of fog rolling off the mountain and pouring out to sea. Not being on an endurance test and cowards at heart, another 45 minutes found us tucked up safely back in Cascais Marina where it was still sunny and calm. Lady Veronica a 36 foot centre cockpit Oceanis, who had arrived in Cascais just before us on Wednesday had tried the same trip twice earlier in the morning � we compared weather notes with her crew (Skipper Barry, brother Richard and Phil the postman) and it was not looking good. Cascais, sheltered by the hills of Sintra to the north was warm and sunny but out at Cabo de Roca the situation was unlikely to change for the next few days. Sunday�s forecast offered the least wind but still predicted wave heights of over 2.5m, we decided to give it a try.

Seven am, both boats motored out of the marina and along the coast. Temptress with her main-sail up but the 2nd reef in, Lady Veronica under full sail. By the time we reached the first headland it was blowing hard although the waves seemed a little easier than on our previous attempt. Lady V, by now motoring under bare poles, radioed to say she was turning back but we decided to carry on, determined to reach Peniche. The waves were from the north-west and the wind was a bit west of north so we hoped to make a north-north-easterly course (about 20 degrees) once round Cabo de Roca. We put in a lot of west first so our course would take Temptress well clear of the headland. When the red cliffs from which the Cabo gets its name were well over our right shoulder we tacked towards our destination, Peniche. At about the same time the wind swung a little to east of north. Yuk � now the best we could do, direction-wise was 40 degrees which was taking us into the rocky coast a few miles north of the headland. The waves here were bigger, seriously impeding forward progress even with Temptress� big propeller and the engine going flat out we were only managing about 3 knots. It is difficult to describe to anyone who has not been to sea but one minute we were up on the top of a wave looking over everything. The sea was blue-green with sunlight picking out the white-tops. Then as the wave moved away behind us Temptress would point downhill into the front of the next wave a metre or two from the crest. A wall of saltwater rolls up over the deck crashing into the sprayhood and rushes under the deck through the gullies where the sheets and halyards run from mast to cockpit. This water spills over onto the top of the companionway hatch and into the cockpit. The rest of the wave rushes along the side-decks sometimes splashing up over the windward side and into the cockpit soaking everyone. The next wave picks the boat up 2 or 3 metres high and then as it disappears behind us leaves Temptress hanging in the air. �BANG�, down the bow comes into the front of the next roller which rushes up the deck in a sheet of green stopping the boat dead. It is a bone-shaking, uncomfortable, wet ride that none of us want to endure for long. The helmsman has to work hard to keep Temptress on course and to try to minimise the crashing off the waves tasks that are often incompatible. The wind was increasing, gusting F8 at times. A quick debate and we reluctantly point the boat for Cascais once more � oh how quiet it was travelling with the waves under full sail � it was a quick trip back to yet another berth on �L� pontoon.  The internet weather forecasts predicted the same weather well into the week. Will we ever get round this headland?

With little else to do, Kevin & Susie took the train into Lisbon on Monday morning and then out to Sintra where the rulers of Portugal built their summer palaces high up in the hills. The old town with its narrow cobbled streets, winds its way up the hillside and unlike the Portugal we�ve been used to for so long, it is lush and green with deciduous trees and grassy fields. In fact the town with its Victorian architecture reminded us of Matlock Bath! All that was missing were the amusement arcades and the leather clad bikers. At lunch-time we were kidnapped by a middle-aged lady waving a menu. She escorted us down a steep path to a hidden gem of a restaurant where we devoured fish fillets and Portuguese smoked sausage both accompanied by rice and chips.  From Sintra half an hour on the bus brought us to Cabo de Roca. We were pleased to find it so windy that standing up was difficult. This is the most westerly point in mainland Europe (the far west of Ireland is further west) and apart from the light-house there is a restaurant cum shop and a tourist office plus coach parking for a few thousand tourists. We refrained from buying ourselves a certificate to say we�d been there � we�d prefer to buy one in Peniche that stated we�d rounded the Cabo!

Tuesday�s forecast from the Portuguese Institute of Metrology was not good � predicting occasional F7�s with wave heights of 3 to 3.5 metres for Sao Vincente, the sea area that Cabo de Roca is the northern boundary of.  Further north the outlook was bleaker with 4 metre plus waves. We had begun this trip north with full hopes of settled weather and pleasant anchorages but how different reality was.  We were beginning to sympathise with the Bellman in Lewis Carroll�s Hunting of the Snark….

 

‘But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,
And the Bellman, perplexed and distressed,
Said he had hoped, at least, when the wind blew due East,
That the ship would not travel due West!’

It looked like Saturday was the earliest date we could round Cabo de Roca. If not then or Sunday then the forecast predicted even more wind on Monday and throughout the following week. Still it wasn’t all bad – Barry, Richard and Phil from Lady V are good company and Delos (an American boat we met in Sevilla months ago) had just arrived enroute for Norway. Her crew includes four kids so Will was happy to renew his friendships with the teenagers – swopping computer games and so forth.  There is another boat that deserves a mention – St Christopher – a wooden 50+ footer designed by Sparkman & Stephens. Last time we were here she was languishing in her berth sadly neglected and for sale. Now her varnishwork is mostly rubbed back, her teak deck is clean and Gordon, the skipper, is looking forward to her being lifted out for a much needed paint job on her topsides. Over the winter this classic yacht has acquired a new UK-based owner who is paying Gordon to lavish her with the TLC she has lacked. Once the work is complete she is off to the Med – it is great to see a beautiful old boat coming back to life again.

Meanwhile with Lisbon easy to reach by train and a list jobs to do round the boat there was plenty to keep us occupied. However we despatched our April Journal by email, we were still hopeful that next time we wrote we would be in the north of Biscay heading for Brittany having explored a well kept secret, the beautiful Ria’s of North West Spain.