November 2001 – Life in Portugal

November 1 is a national holiday when the Portuguese visit their family graves with flowers and candles in little red pots so everything is closed – a good reason for being at sea! We headed for Figueira Da Foz – it seemed interesting from the guide books but the marina was bleak and had little to offer. The town had a market the following day which was fun – lots of little stalls all seemingly selling home grown produce – we bought potatoes here, cabbage and onions there and so forth. Having decided to have fish for supper we ventured down the aisles of fishwives in black with knitted capes and embroidered aprons – one squid and one large unidentifiable fish later we headed back to the boat.

The coast here is one long, long beach with only the occasional port. We planned to head for Peniche which the guide book extols as one of the best towns on the Atlantic coast of Portugal but having left later than intended after our trip to the market decided to make the short hop to Nazar; instead. For the first time since we left Portsmouth we actually managed to sail most the 30 miles or so but having arrived we’re not certain we want to be here. The town of Nazar; is some 2 km from the marina. The marina is in an industrial wasteland south of the town and is almost as bleak as Dunkirk (which still retains its place at the top of Will’s list of places not bother to go back to). The 3 pontoons are across from the fish dock so the evenings til late and the very early mornings are full of comings and goings of fishing boats small and large emptying their catches. The ensuing auction in the shed behind is just as noisy.

Our market catch from F Da Foz made an enjoyable supper but we still don’t know what it was we baked with onions and a little olive oil! In the morning (Saturday) Kevin and Susie walked into Nazar;  – very definitely a seaside resort even though you apparently can’t swim off the beaches as it’s too dangerous. The sand at the waters edge is ridged very deeply – more like small cliffs than a beach. The funicular railway to the old town was closed for repairs. The sign said 15-17 September but it was still shut on Nov 3. All of the restaurants seem to have the same prices and they were pricey for an out of season seaside village. The Harbour Master here is one Captain Hadley of HM’s Navy and he is trying despite the odds to make the marina hospitable and put it on the yachties map but I’m afraid this is one place we won’t return to in a hurry. Peniche (the next port down the coast) is apparently very oily and the fishing boats arrive and exit very fast making it bumpy and uncomfortable so we headed on down to Cascais on the outskirts of Lisbon for a few days. We left early in the morning and sailed all the way with a NE F5-6 making it our best trip yet. The good weather was holding with a big high sitting out off the Iberian coast giving us light winds, warm sunny days and cool nights.

Cascais is the first true marina we had visited since leaving Spain in fact it is more like Port Solent or Brighton. Purpose built a couple of years ago with shops, cafes, supermarket and gin-palace dealerships it still somehow seems to retain an air of not yet being complete. Very few of it’s hundreds of berths were occupied and we were allocated a berth in the inner section normally reserved in summer for local boats. Cascais is a suburb of Lisbon it is the Kensington or Richmond of Portugals capital with expensive villas up in the hills amongst the palm trees. It has a one-way system which makes Richmond or Kingston appear traffic-less and to cap it all a new shopping centre is being built just north of the station. Building sites in Portugal take over no provision is made for either the hapless pedestrian or traffic white vans and cranes double or triple park, the pavement simply stops (by the station it ends at a large hole in the ground big enough to swallow a car or too with little or no fencing!) and even the traffic police with their whistles seem unable to restore any order!

On Tuesday (November 6) the crew of Temptress headed into Lisbon public transport is cheap, very cheap. The 30 minute train journey from Cascais cost just £2.50 and a one day travel pass for the metro, buses and trams of Lisbon’s centre even less. Our first stop was the former Expo 98 site a glorious riot of modern Portuguese architecture and home to Europe’s largest aquarium. The Oceanarium is stunning a strange building from the outside, it sits in the middle of a lagoon closer to the River Douro and looks like something from a James Bond film. Inside there is a central enormous tank representing the ocean deep it is huge with sharks, shoals of tuna and many other large fish you view this at every turn. At each corner of the building is another tank representing different habitats the Atlantic complete with puffins, the Antarctic with penguins, the Pacific with otters (including a baby) and the Indian Ocean with multi-coloured fish. Each of these is separated from the main tank by glass so from the lower level you can see through to the ocean deep with its sharks and big fish beyond. Three hours went by very quickly!

Afterwards we explored the city centre a little taking rides on an elevator (one of the tram-like cars which go up and down Lisbons steepest streets) and on the old fashioned number 12 tram. We found a very ornate church, Sao Joao Baptiste, where every surface seemed to be gilded or painted and the cathedral (the S) which was a complete contrast of honey-coloured stone. Sitting in the main square we had sticky doughnuts and coffee watching the chestnut sellers and marvelling how the locals wear jumpers and leather coats when we were hot and in our shirt sleeves! It would take days to see everything as it was all three of us had very sore feet. The following day we all had sore heads too after being waylaid by O’Neils bar as we returned to Temptress from a restaurant in the centre of Cascais.

Wednesday was spent changing the engine oil and lazing in the sun, recovering from the excesses of the night before and then on Thursday we headed off towards the Algarve. What a sail. Initially there was no wind and we motored sunbathing on the foredeck (yes Susie was wearing shorts and a bikini top in November!). The forecast was for a F4 Northerly increasing to F5 or 6 later by and large this is what we got mid-afternoon. We passed Cape Espinchel at a distance to avoid the anti aircraft fire! We later discovered that Portugal is currently defending it self as part of a NATO exercise!

After dark (around 7pm) we settled into watches 4 hours on and 2 in your bunk, with Kevin & Susie taking the first session. It got windier and the Navtex reported a strong wind warning. Running directly downwind gradually became more difficult so to avoid the accidental jib we altered course slightly and shortened sail. By the middle of the night Temptress was averaging 7-8 knots and after rounding Cabo De Sao Vincente, the wind was gusting 30-35 knots so we put in the third reef a good job too cos shortly after we recorded a couple of gusts of around 50 knots! The seas were large and confused the autopilot just couldn’t cope so the Skipper at the helm, got very wet when for the first time ever, Temptress was pooped. Round the corner from Sagres the most south western point of Europe acted as shelter from the worst of the weather. The seas became calmer and the wind, now blowing off the land to the north of us, was almost balmy at 4am! At 5:30am we tied up in Lagos, retiring to our bunks to await the opening of the pedestrian bridge and the marina reception. At 10:30 we were woken by a knocking on the hull and our friend Richard, who has been in Lagos for weeks, joined us for coffee. During the trip another milestone was passed the three of us have now sailed 1500 nautical miles since leaving Southsea in September.

So after many adventures here we are in Lagos (pronounced ‘laar-gosh’). It is another new-ish purpose-built marina but very clean and pleasant…where else would you find marble walled loos and showers with frosted glass doors? Many marina residents who came here for a month or even a week are still here after a year or two!! Unlike some of the other marinas on the Portuguese coast Lagos actually feels finished. The weather is clear and sunny during the day and hence it can be very warm out of the wind but quite chilly after sunset. Our days mostly are spent doing absolutely nothing – breakfast, coffee & newspapers at 11, lunch, a walk or a bit of boat maintenance and then supper and a round or two of mah-jong before bed.

We are stuck in Lagos with our halyards holding up the mast after our push button technology failed us! The electric furler (which rolls away the foresail) stopped furling…. Removal of the unit revealed water inside and as we all know salt water and electric motors don’t mix too well. A new motor had to be ordered (it eventually arrived via Paris from the USA!) and we are now awaiting the return of the local engineer who had booked an Atlantic passage for his holidays and won’t be back until mid-Dec.  But, if we feel the need for a sail we can take out a friends Swan 38 “Dolfijn” (many thanks Richard for trusting us with her).

Meanwhile Kevin has been practising his ‘plumbing’ skills – hot air from our ‘central heating’ system just wasn’t reaching anywhere forward of the aft cabins. Having emptied the lockers in the saloon he found that one of the pipes had come apart… nice warm locker, seating and water tank though! As per usual on a boat fixing it was not a simple task – to put it back he had to take out the joint it should have been attached to, from the main run of pipe and the other end off its outlet vent – four jubilee clips instead of the one and reassemble it in a confined space you can’t see into! The job required two pairs of hands but no heads!!
Lagos is warm and friendly with an endless supply of restaurants and cafes. If we miss anything Brit then we can always head for Luis’s bar with cable telly (sport…aka rugby), Guinness (expensive) and toasted sandwiches. Lagos has a large ex-pat community and most of the locals speak English. Which is good as the local dialect almost unintelligible (“obligado” is Portuguese for “thank-you” but here they say “rigado”). The supermarket has cornflakes and baked beans!
We’ve taken the opportunity to explore the Algarve. Our first trip was the train along the coast to Faro – really for the ride through the orange groves. Faro’s ‘old centre’ was pleasant to walk through. The medieval buildings are being restored and as it is enclosed within walls with very narrow gates (mostly about the width of a mini) there are few cars. The main square was lined with orange trees – in a month or two the town hall will have quite a crop! We saw our first storks in a nest on top of the bell tower over one of the town gates and they posed for photos.
Friends from London came for a long weekend in mid-November. The girls arrived in time to have a beer before lunch at one of the local fishermans’ cafes; anything you like to eat as long as it is fish – cooked to order on a charcoal grill in the open air. On the Saturday it rained for the first time in weeks, an understatement as we were like drowned rats after the five-minute walk into town! We now understand how the Algarve gets its entire annual rainfall between November and March  at a rough guess it only has to rain on about 6 days! Together we explored yet more of Lagos seeking shelter in the wonderful museum, quite an eclectic mixture of local crafts, coins, roman remains, paintings and weird things preserved in jars (a goat with 8 legs!) plus a wonderful gilded baroque church!  On the Sunday, having promised our visitors some sailing, we packed a picnic and borrowed Dolfijn for the day there was little wind so we gently drifted away from the land all morning and motored back later to view the caves and grottos from closer to. The headland here is made of sandstone so waves, rain and wind have made the top a series of mini canyons whilst at sea level there are fantastic caves that the grockles visit in small boats from the quayside in Lagos.

A few days later Kevin hired a car at great expense (65 euros for four days…. so not that great really!).  The first day we headed for the wild west of Cape St Vincent where they allow tourists  into their working lighthouse right up to the light! Outside men fish off the cliffs – some 200 or more feet above the water just how they land their catch we don’t know. The roads here are amazing – if they have a number and a colour on the map then there are some signposts and tarmac, otherwise dirt tracks take you down to wonderful unspoilt beaches. The coast here is much like Cornwall with high cliffs, rock pools and golden sand. Afterwards we drove inland up into the Serra de Monchique – the Algarve mountains (they just qualify at 900m or so). The mountains to the west are covered in forests of eucalyptus trees a heavenly smell as we drove along in the warm sunshine and cork oaks (one of Portugal’s major exports).  The land to East is quite barren here there are many young forests newly planted with some sort of spruce whose branches form a bright green, compact, round ball rather than the tall pines found in Forestry Commission plantations in the UK. Another day the three of us drove along the river border between Portugal and Spain and found cafe prices ridiculously low away from the coast. It was here our map let us down having covered several miles north along a dirt track towards the first bridge across the Rio Guadiana north of the coast we found it was an iron wreck hanging into the water from the other bank; unable to cross to the village on the north side we had to re-trace the track back to the main road. Later another map correctly showed the road ending at the river but had the village we were aiming for on the south side of the river!

The Portuguese are finally investing in roads. A new length of the E1 joining Portugal, Spain and France has been opened since we arrived. Meanwhile the N2 has 157km of re-surfacing from Castro Verde south to Faro as we discovered when we drove along the entire length one evening! There are large yellow signs proudly proclaiming the renovations are funded with EU money every 5 km or so. It is a typical Portuguese project  they have started at both ends but not completed much. At first there was a new surface but no lines, making this twisting mountain road treacherous in the dark. Eventually this ended abruptly and we were back on the old road, tarmac worn thin over cobbles with potholes at the edges but at least it had faint white lines. Only a few kilometres north of the new E1 at Faro had both new surface and white lines.

Kevin commented that water was much more freely available than it had been ten years ago when he last sailed this coast (so far we have only paid for water in La Corunna). A quick glance at the map shows why, there are now several large reservoirs in the mountains that divide the Algarve from the Alentejo (the next region north). We got hopelessly lost trying to find the local dam the only sign was the one on the main road. Once there it was incredibly quiet we could hear the water trickling out of an overflow several hundred feet below us.  We had hoped to walk along the waterside but this is not the UK and there were signs everywhere forbidding access to the land around the flooded valley.
Gypsy markets are another feature of life here. For several days towards the end of November we had the local feira both a fair and a market next to the bullring on the municipal fair site on outskirts of the town. Loud music from the rides and commentary from the stalls kept us awake until gone mid-night. The market sells mainly clothes (huge mounds of “designer” jeans and cheap white socks predominate), kitchenware and shoes. There are a few stalls with cheeses and hams plus the local doughnuts which are either 6 inch hollow tubes filled with chocolate sauce or 12 inch diameter puffs coated in spicy sugar;  it’s a challenge to eat one without making a mess.  On the first Saturday of December all the same stalls plus a few hundred more (selling the same stuff) returned without the fairground rides for the monthly market the gypsies tour the Algarve towns with their wares.

By the bus-station in Lagos each Saturday morning is a more interesting produce market. The floor of the covered hall is marked out in small squares. The locals bring their wares by bus one might be selling lemons and greens, an elderly lady complete with apron might be selling potatoes, oranges or dried beans. Cages contain a couple of live chickens, ducks and/or the occasional turkey! Honey, cakes, cheese and toys were also on sale. The cheese we have bought has been delicious. There are no stalls, the produce is on the floor or an upturned box and the well wrapped up vendors perch on folding stools or another wooden crate.

It is winter here in the Algarve but you can tell the ex-pats, holiday-makers and boat crews by the way we dress. With temperatures often close to the average English Summer, we wear shorts, t-shirts and sandals. The locals dress in typical Northern European winter garb – woolly jumpers, leather coats, long trousers and boots, leaving us wondering how they manage without succumbing to heat exhaustion!

Another feature of life here has been the entertainment of the election campaign for the local mayors and presumably councillors. Democracy is still fairly new here (Portugal was a dictatorship until 1974) and we can only conclude that this is why banners and advertising hoardings for each of the local parties have decorated every town we’ve visited since arriving in the country in October. Almost every day in Lagos there is a motor cavalcade with music (the oddest being a Van Gellis track from the film “1492”), flags and loud hailer announcements. Even the local school fence and the town square are festooned with banners inviting people to vote for one of the parties or to attend public meetings. The election is apparently on Sunday 14 December.