December 2001 – Christmas on the Algarve

As Lagos was a good safe place to leave the boat we returned briefly to the UK for the annual race-crew reunion on Dec 5 at the Royal Ocean Racing Club dinner to celebrate (again) Clarionet’s success in this years Fastnet. The weather on our return to Portugal was not as we had left it; the river that flows through the marina was close to tomato ketchup in colour and the rain monsoon-like. However despite being dark, overcast and very windy it was still much warmer than the UK. So we decided with Richard to head for Sevilla for a couple of days. Much, much warmer and certainly dry. We visited the Cathedral, wandered round the Santa Cruz area full of very narrow streets and pretty squares, nearly got run over by the horse and carriages in Plaza De Espana and ended up in an Irish Bar. The following day we drove back via the Sierras to the north, cork oaks and pigs everywhere. The pigs feed on the acorns and then become Serrano Ham! When we arrived back our furler was almost back together and by Monday afternoon it was fixed onto the forestay once more – hurray we can go sailing again!

A week or so later we met up with David, Cherry and Alex from Minima, who were staying in a villa at Country Club near Vilamoura  – actually the same place that Chris Evans has recently bought a hide away or two in; Quinta Da Lago. It was hell being forced to use the swimming pool, jacuzzi and sauna but we coped. Will decided to stay an extra day or so with Alex who is the same age. Later in the week we all tried to go sailing but the strong Southerly wind meant we couldn’t even attempt the entrance to Lagos as it had huge breaking waves. Instead we walked along the quay to the same place and watched the seagulls diving into the tops of the waves and emerging the other side with fish in their beaks!

Christmas in Portugal was fun the local Intermarche (yes, we know it is a French supermarket but they have them in Portugal too!) had mincemeat and Mrs Peeks Christmas puddings.  Susie’s sister Pat and her husband, Pete, arrived spending some nights in their hotel at Albufeira and some on the boat. A hire car enabled commuting the 20 odd miles to Lagos.  The Portuguese celebrate Christmas with a large meal after midnight mass on Christmas Eve and many people go to work on Christmas day itself. Christmas cards are not sent and even present giving is low key all a very pleasant change from the commer******m of Christmas in the UK. It was odd to be able to go down to the beach after lunch without needing thermals etc! (The meal itself was roast duck followed by Christmas pudding with a Portuguese starter cod cakes).

Having never been to Calde Monchique, the thermal springs in the mountains north of Lagos the five of us piled into the little car we’d hired and headed off into the mountains. After a pleasant walk we had a coffee in Monchique itself and then drove up to the highest point in the Algarve – Foia – the views were fantastic, the cloud was lower than us and the peaks poked through it just like being in an airplane!  Afterwards we followed the signs for a restaurant which somehow we missed and Pete rapidly began to regret volunteering to drive. These were the worst roads we had found yet; we rattled and rolled up and down hills, round bends all on loose gravel and absolutely no signposts. We noticed that every little hamlet seemed to have been by-passed, so were not surprised to see the predictable EU-funding sign announcing that the road was being “improved”. Eventually after an hour or more five extremely hungry people were relieved reach the smooth ride of the main west coast road and a restaurant was found within minutes.  The lady owner/chef spoke little English so fetched her student son down to help translate and serve us huge plates of pork and beans.

After Pat and Pete returned to the UK we finally moved on from Lagos. It was a tougher than expected trip down the coast to Vilamoura – we decided that the New Year celebrations might be better there than in Lagos and anyway all three of us needed a change of scenery! We sailed in company with Richard on Dolfijn. Predictably the wind (SE 6 to 7) was against us all the way (not what was forecast at all – S 3 to 4) so instead of a short 4-5 hour trip it took most of the day as Vilamoura is SE of Lagos. It was after dark when we arrived – the reception closed so we couldn’t clear in….every cloud has a silver lining though as we weren’t charged for a night on the reception pontoon and we had a great night in the Yacht Club.  Richard’s boat was due to be lifted out in Vilamoura later in Jan. New Year wasn’t too wonderful for Susie who felt ill after supper so went to bed whilst everyone else partied the night away until 6am and then spent the day sleeping off too much alcohol….Will had found some teenagers of various nationalities and went to a nightclub and a couple of bars, Kevin & Richard went from bar to boat to bar to boat!!!