Portimão is a city in the Algarve region of southern Portugal. A busy fishing port with a long history of ship-building, and like most places nowadays, tourism is the modern mainstay of the economy. White beaches along the southern coast of Portugal attract thousands of overseas tourists each year – behind the neat rows of colourful beach umbrellas, the broad expanse of sand along Praia da Rocha suggests considerably fewer tourists than usual. Further into the Arade River is the large Marina Portimão, plus boatyard and fishing port. Fishing vessels depart the harbour in the wee hours, only to return laden with fish and shadowed by hundreds of huge sea-birds diving in for a chance to nab a catch-of-the-day.

Catch-of-the-day, Portimão
Fishing vessel, Portimão

The marina in Portimão is more expensive than other marinas on the Atlantic coast during high season (Jun-Sep) so the river fills with yachts, no doubt preferring to spend their Euros on red wine. Landing the dinghy isn’t convenient in most places, however, under the boatyard slip is a small dinghy dock and a steep ladder up to the slip. From here the chandleries are close by, and there’s a very convenient outside laundry machine – washer and dryer.

At the northern end of town just under the bridge on the western bank is a small fisherman’s dock to tie the dinghy to. From there, it’s a ten-minute walk south to the Pingo Doce supermarket or across the bridge 20 minutes to Lidl and Staples. Heading west for 20 minutes there’s the large Aqua Portimao shopping complex, plus a Decathlon sports store; Maxmat building supplies; and the British Supermarket (Iceland), in case you need a fix of something from Old Blighty. Staying here is quite convenient and we’re in no hurry to move along until we’ve ticked off a few jobs.

View looking south-east towards anchorage, Portimão
Looking south – entrance to Arade River, Portimão – anchorage to the east
Anchorage south of the fishing harbour and boat yard, Portimão

The anchorage just inside the harbour entrance can get a little bouncy in strong winds or on days when the tourist boats and jet-skis are active (typically weekends). Mornings are typically calm, with the wind increasing in the afternoon, easing after sunset. With a fresh flush of water at high tide the water was good enough to jump in for a dip, but the muck flowing out at low tide isn’t too appealing. It’s certainly not safe to swim too far from the boat as you’d likely get mowed down by a jet-ski. We moved the boat closer to the boat yard and fishing port and it’s much calmer and quieter here, although don’t even consider swimming here.

Ferragudo

The end of summer temperatures stayed around 25degC along the Atlantic coast, with few days reaching 30degC. Now that autumn is upon us, we see changes in the sky – thunderstorms yesterday and rain today – it’s almost time to go.

The anchorages are busy with boats from around Europe, Britain and the Antipodes. It’s the time of year when vessels are considering which routes to take – south to the Canary Islands, then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, or to venture inside the Mediterranean. Some have already left for Madeira and the Canaries, while others are waiting a little longer to depart and avoid any chance of bad weather during hurricane season.

Ferragudo on the eastern side of Portimão

One of the delights of cruising is to meet new cruisers, particularly those at the early stage of their sailing life. It’s also really lovely to catch up with ‘old salts’ we’ve met around the world, so we were happy to meet again with long-term Canadian cruisers Michael & Sheila of ‘Kantala’ who we first met in Rodrigues in 2014 while crossing the Indian Ocean, then again in the BVIs in 2016. A surprise visit from Finnish sailing friends Salme and Tom (we first met in Darwin in 2012 then again in Sri Lanka, South Africa in 2014, and three years ago in Finland) occasioned in a night of swapping tales of sailing adventures over a couple of bottles of vinho tinto in the village of Ferragudo, followed by a relaxing coffee the next morning.

Catching up with friends from around the world

Now, the Orcas…. Unluckily for dozens of sailing yachts, orcas along this coastline are still chewing rudders from vessels and causing chaos for cruisers. Some of the footage on Youtube is truly disturbing. The hot-spot for activity over the past couple of months was closer to the Strait of Gibraltar, but only last week four attacks in one day just outside this coastline near Lagos and Sagres, resulted in three vessels losing their rudders – all had to be towed to safety. An Aussie boat we know of had the rudder completely stripped from the rudder stock – much like a kebab skewer! It’s a real problem and we hope those pesky cetaceans stop their vandalism and migrate north by the time we depart.

So what are our plans I hear you ask?

Roll the dice!

Well, after a good deal of consideration, coin tossing and subliminal hints from pointing statues, we’ve made the decision to head west. The thought of wintering another year in the northern hemisphere (we’ve only been out of the cold for three months!), coupled with the constraints due to the pandemic (Morocco still closed), and the time limitations set by the Schengen Area, made the decision easy – we’ve decided we’ll forego sailing/wintering in the Med and make a crossing to the Caribbean. No doubt we’ll face border issues there, but at least the weather is warmer!

Subliminal hints from pointing statues – Which way to go?

We made the most of our time up here in the north. In fact, we’ve travelled more than I ever expected. Highlights: our trip through the Standing Mast Route in the Netherlands was really special; Sailing the Baltic to the beautiful cities and countries of Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Denmark and Norway, plus train travelling through the countries of Northern Europe – Germany, France, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland – plus our cold, windy sailing across the North Sea to Shetlands, Orkney, Scotland and earlier passage around the wild west coast of Ireland – much more than we had originally planned to see. We have the option to visit the rest of Europe another time, but for now, we’d like to sail more and be warm doing it. Maybe we’ll do another lap around the globe and come at it from the eastern end… maybe.

So that’s it; we’ve still got a few weeks here in Portugal before we need to make the 3,000+nm voyage across the Atlantic to the familiar islands of the Caribbean. Some planning to do and only a handful of jobs to get our Blue Heeler ocean-ready.

Until then…

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Much has happened these past few weeks – we’ve sailed over 200nm along the Portuguese coast, visited some small harbours with scenic towns; indulged in too many yummy custard tarts and cheap wine; explored the shadowed lanes and sunny heights of Lisbon; dodged getting hit by a dragging boat; dropped a winch handle overboard; hauled the boat out for essential maintenance; shattered a wind generator blade; slammed into by another dragging boat; and snagged a fish farm…

Blue Heeler sails from Figueira da Foz (photo by Endeavour of Essa)

Making our way south from the marina at Povoa de Varzim, we expected a quick sail in 15-25kn, helped along by a south flowing current. The wind remained lighter than expected, so for 75nm the boat yawed from side to side, winged out sails flapping as the boat dipped over each swell.  As soon as we had the entrance to Figueira da Foz in our sights, the wind finally strengthened to over 20kn. The entrance can be difficult in large breaking seas, but fortunately we had good conditions. We motored to the marina and stayed only one night; enough light to walk around the town before sunset.

The small fishing village of Peniche is 57nm south of Figueira da Foz, and an affordable place to stop for the night at the small marina.

With so many fishing pots, ropes and flags dotted along the coastline, we agreed that sailing overnight could result in a rope catching around our prop. We’ve seen the trouble this can cause while sailing around Indonesia and Malaysia and we didn’t fancy jumping in the Atlantic darkness to clear the prop in the middle of the night.

From Peniche, we experienced the thickest fog of all our voyages (except for the time in Lake Michigan in 2015). The fog was so thick we could see no more than 0.25nm ahead; the radar picking up boats and even the smallest fishing float. Assuming the fog would clear by mid-morning, it wasn’t until we rounded Cabo Raso and the final stretch to the Cascais anchorage in late afternoon did the sun appear as the blue sky opened up.

Over the previous weeks, we’d noticed our bilge going off now and again – very unusual for our boat. While sailing along, Wayne investigated and could see sea-water coming out of the purpose telltale indicator hole at the top of the rudder suggesting the lower rudder seal was leaking. Bugger!

After a night at anchor at the busy Cascais anchorage, we headed into the Parque das Nações marina to the east of Lisbon. Here we could look at the problem in a calm environment and give us a place to stay while we explored Lisbon.

Cascais anchorage to the Parque das Nações marina is 18nm and the currents run strong along the Tagus River – up to five knots during spring tides. The bridge – Ponte 25 de Abril – resembles San Fran’s Golden Gate bridge. It has a height clearance of 70m and the traffic above sounds like a hive of bees as we motor underneath.

We make sure to reach the entrance to the marina at slack water. A guy in the welcome rib guides us and we follow him through the zig-zag entrance. Easy enough at slack water, but notoriously difficult during fast flowing spring tides I’m told.

The Parque das Nações – Park of Nations Marina – offers a 10% discount for OCC members so the daily rate was less than the four marinas along the Tagus River run by the Lisbon Port Authority. The thoughtful welcome-pack offered to us on arrival contained everything we needed to enjoy our stay in Lisbon – bus times, maps, sites to visit, and so on. The Parque das Nações was created for the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition so the area is quite modern and handy to catch buses or trains into the centre of Lisbon.

Parque das Nações – Park of Nations Marina, Lisbon, Portugal

There was little we could do to fix the rudder problem on the water – believe me we tried! So, sight-seeing was on the agenda until we could get hauled out. After breakfast of Pastéis de Nata, small custard tarts, we walked around the old part of Lisbon admiring the old tiled buildings, then caught the 15E tram down to Belém Tower, a 16th century fortification on the northern bank of the Tagus River – one of the few remaining buildings after the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755; the resultant fires and tsunami pretty much decimated the entire city.

Belém Tower, Lisbon

The Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) erected in the early 1960s looks over the Tagus River. At the prow stands Henry the Navigator who led maritime discoveries and initiated the period known as the Age of Discovery. Behind him is King Alfonso V of Portugal and next is great explorer, Vasco da Gama. Behind the monument looking towards Jerónimos Monastery is an impressive compass rose constructed from red, black and neutral limestone.

Conveniently for us, the Centro Nautico boatyard in Alges (3kms west of the Belém Tower) could haul Blue Heeler that week. This is the first time we’ve had to be hauled for unscheduled work and the fact that we’d only been out of the water four months ago purposely for an insurance survey was unfortunate.

Hard times….

The staff at the boatyard are super friendly and helpful, and speak excellent English. The train station is close by, as are shops and laundries. The boatyard is clean and spacious and they didn’t have a problem with us staying aboard while we did the work. Once Blue Heeler was hauled out and plonked on a cradle, we began the routine of setting up for life in a hot boatyard.

After stripping the aft cabin, of spinnakers, mattresses, and all the other crap we have in there, Wayne spent the next day horizontal, stripping the steering system from the rudder shaft; then removing the rudder bearings and seals. New seals were ordered from Hallberg Rassy in Sweden and delivered the next day. Within two days he’d replaced the seals with new ones and reassembled the rest of the steering system. Sorted.

Not his happy place!

With our launch date set after the weekend, this gave us time to do some minor jobs, while also taking time to further explore Lisbon. A heatwave over the Iberian Peninsula that week had the temperature up to 35degC, while interior Spain it reached 47degC. Next to the boatyard is a beach so I spent an hour or so there to cool down – the water is still a chilly 17degC and few people were in the water despite the hot conditions.

The launch was successful and with the rudder working okay and no seawater entering the boat, we headed south 27nm to the anchorage at Sesimbra where we could relax. Or could we?

Sailing south – good to be back on the water

Later that evening as we were watching TV, I saw a forestay passing close to our boat as it dragged by in the 25+kn winds. I was surprised it didn’t hit us, as we’ve been smacked into by dragging boats so many times. It wasn’t a surprise that it dragged in the windy conditions as we’d watched the owner anchor ahead of us and lay a short amount of rope rode. It wasn’t possible for us to help the boat in the windy conditions, but I contacted the authorities who turned up within an hour. Miraculously, the boat managed to snag its anchor and stop some distance away from the safety of the anchorage. Fortunately for the two young boaters who had gone ashore, the police had tracked them down and took them out to their boat whereupon they re-anchored. It’s good when this happens.

Sesimbra harbour, Portugal

A 32nm sailing day from Sesimbra to Sines was pleasant. Sines anchorage is quite small and exposed to the western swell; still we had a good nights sleep. Other boats had similar thoughts to leave early for the 65nm sail to get around Cabo de Sao Vicente – the most southwestern cape of the Iberian Peninsula, and Europe. The wind was light, but eventually increased giving us a great sail. Somewhere along this trip one of our winch handles jumped ship and descended into the depths. It happens…

Cabo de Sao Vicente, Southwestern most cape of Europe
More fun sailing that fixing boats!

Around the cape, the wind increased to 30kn as expected, but with reefed sails, we rode the conditions well and sailed our way into Enseada de Sagres where the strong north wind persisted all night. At some point during the night, one of our wind generator blades ejected itself into the stratosphere, disappearing into the night, ultimately joining the winch handle in the depths I expect. Seems that corrosion deformed the aluminium, causing one of the plastic blades to split and shatter. This sometimes happens. Good job we have spares aboard.

With our impotent wind generator sporting a new look, on the way to Portimao, we found ourselves in the midst of a newly created fish farm. So many buoys and not one marked on the chart. At first we thought the buoys were independent of each other and motored our way through. But the last line of buoys were connected by a thick rope. Oops!

Our keel snagged the rope and there we were.  A boatload of workers came by shaking their heads; ultimately, one guy jumped in and freed us from the trap. After thanking them for helping us, we continued the final few miles to Portimao. This also happens…

So, now we are in the Algarve – beaches adorned with sun worshippers and masked tourists. It’s quite surreal to think there’s even a pandemic, but masks are worn and venues are still under restrictions. From what I’ve read, Portugal is doing well with their vaccinations too – 65% of the population vaccinated.

After contacting Portugal’s Immigration office (SEF), we were advised of a Decree from 17th March that will allow us to stay in Portugal beyond our 90 day Schengen expiry date, due to Portugal’s State of Emergency regarding the pandemic. Morocco is still closed to foreign yachts, and with the relentless Orca attacks on boats still an issue (to the point where Spain declared an exclusion zone for yachts in an area between Barbate and Tarifa closer towards the Strait of Gibraltar), we have little option but to stay in this region for now. The last thing we need now is to have our rudder chewed off by ‘playful’ cetaceans. That does not normally happen!

Until next time…

(I kid you not – while typing up this on my HP laptop this afternoon, a loud bang from outside. A small power-boat had dragged anchor and thumped into us in this busy anchorage. This we expected to happen!)

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Many of the harbours along Portugal’s coastline require fair weather to access safely. As the Atlantic swell builds from the west, this mass of water meets the shallow coastline causing huge waves and dangerous conditions; often harbours are closed to boats. The world’s largest surf waves are along this coastline; not so good for a small yacht!

From the anchorage at Baiona at the south end of Ría de Vigo, the next leg of our voyage was to reach Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. No large swells forecast, and we had a good weather forecast for the trip – 1.5m seas; 15-25kn northwest winds. Leaving at first light we farewelled Spain for a full day ahead of magnificent visibility to look out for fishing pots/flags. Now in Portugal, our clocks have gone back an hour to match GMT – sunrise now at 6.30am; sunset at 9.30pm.

Hard to see the flags and buoys during the day, let alone at night

There are a handful of marinas close by to Porto. The Douro River in Porto has strong currents during spring tides, which makes anchoring in town risky if you want to leave the boat for any length of time. The marina on the Douro River at Porto charges a steep 50 Euros a night and is around 4kms west of town. To the north and a short train-ride away is the Leixoes marina, although reviews on Navily were quite disparaging and it didn’t sound appealing. We can’t vouch for this though since we didn’t actually go there.

Marina and harbour at Povoa de Varzim, Portugal

About 30km north of Porto is the delightful beachside town of Póvoa de Varzim. In this laid-back town, this small marina has all we need – electricity, water, laundry, transport – and we get a discount if staying one week. It’s a ten-minute walk to reach the Sao Bras Metro station and 50 minutes to reach Porto. A quicker Express train takes 35 minutes from Povoa de Varzim station. Buying Metro tickets is easy and the English option is helpful. We caught the B-line train into Trindade station, then swapped to the D-line train to alight at Jardim do Morro station on the south side of Porto. From here, the views across the Douro River to the Ribeira and city of Porto are magnificent. For even better views, we walked up the hill to the lookout from the Igreja da Serra do Pilar. It was fortunate we went this day, as a Metro train strike caused delays and cancellations over the following few days.

View of Porto from the Igreja de Serra do Pilar

Centuries old Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. In the 15th century, Porto had grown into a major trading port as well as one of the greatest ship building centres in Portugal. Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama made history by completing the first ocean voyage from Europe to India in the late 1400s, leading the way for global imperialism.

Any visit to a new country also involves tasting the local cuisine. For a lunchtime treat in Porto I had the popular Portuguese fare, Pastéis de Bacalhau – salted cod fishcakes; and Wayne had a Francesinha – a sandwich with two slices of bread filled with steak, ham and sausage, covered with Edam and a spicy sauce and a side of fries…

Strolling across the arched Luís I Bridge the sky is blue and the tiled rooftops a striking orange. We walk up the hill to the Cathedral then down the narrow, cobbled lanes of Ribeira district, staying cool and shaded from the hot sun.

Porto, Portugal

Stopping for a cool beer at a café located on the Cais da Ribeira, alongside the River Douro, we then ambled up and down the narrow lanes admiring the old churches and architecture. Many people are out and about, but it didn’t feel crowded – just enough tourists to keep the shops and restaurants happy.

Back up the hill we admire the decorative Azulejo tiles of the Igreja de Santo António dos Congregados, the Igreja do Carmo and São Bento Train Station. These tiles, generally simple blue and white, have decorated Portuguese buildings and edifices for the past 500 years and can be found everywhere. Even simple homes are adorned with ornate tiles of various patterns, colours and shapes.

Making our way up the steep streets, we arrive at the tourist hotspot, the Lello Bookstore, also known as Livraria Lello & Irmão. The visitors queue was across and down the street – hundreds of people waiting to enter – I’m sure it’s lovely inside but too busy for us, so we continued our amble.

Returning to the boat, along the coastline the walking and bike tracks seem endless. To the north, beachfront cafes and souvenir stores line the street, while on the back streets, locals sip wine over lunch. We stop at the Docepovoa Confeitaria & Pastelaria to grab a custard treat for later, and ask for recommendations of a good place to have lunch. The owner suggested the nearby Restaurante Franganito Garrett. A short walk away, we take the stairs to the first floor and a table for two, and share plates of Lulas em Alho (squid in garlic), and Sardinas con pimientos (sardines with red peppers). Each plate comes with boiled potatoes to soak up the oil and garlic, and a glass of white wine washes it down perfectly. Eating out in Portugal need not be expensive, and the meals were delicious and very filling!

Back on board with bloated stomachs and a custard treat waiting to be consumed, we settle in for an hour or two of siesta. During the afternoon with no wind to stop it, a heavy sea-fog drifted in obscuring the entire coastline eventually disappearing a couple of hours later.

Marina Povoa de Varzim, Portugal

For the rest of our time, we do jobs around the boat. A half hour ride south along the bike path I reach the pretty seaside town centre of Vila do Conde on the Ave River. Visible among the commercial outlets and concrete homes are the remaining arches of the Aqueduct of Santa Clara built in the 17th century. Originally 999 arches; I wonder why they didn’t build 1000? For those that need a shopping fix, 20 minutes south on the train line towards Porto is the Norte Shopping Centre filled with typical shops and food outlets. I had to pay a visit to the iStore there and spent an hour or so wandering about looking at things I didn’t need.

While summer is in full swing in Europe, the pandemic rages on. Morocco has closed its sea borders and marinas until September. Tunisia is having its own problems – both politically and pandemically, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it closes its borders too. Many boats will soon begin to head out of the Med and plan their trips across the Atlantic to the Caribbean later in the year and will face problems with borders.

Our future plans? We’ll continue down the Portugal coast and consider our options along the way.

Until then…

Ribeira, Porto, Portugal

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The Rías Baixas comprise four estuarine inlets located on the northwest coast of Spain in Galicia. They include the Ría de Muros e Noia, the Ría de Arousa, the Ría de Pontevedra, and the Ría de Vigo. Once around Cape Finisterre, the Rías populate the area up to the Portuguese coast.

Image sourced from Wikipedia

The Rías are rich in marine life; each filled with a heavy aquaculture industry and many small fishing ports. A large percentage of the population in this region make their living from fishing and supporting services, as well as tourism which is taking a hit due to COVID. Sailing around the Rías one has to be mindful of the hundreds of mussel rafts. This area produces around 95% of Spanish mussels – around 200,000 tonnes each year and is one of the largest mussel producing areas in the world. Small fishing vessels also rake the sandy bottoms for hauls of clams while the mariscadoras, Galician women may rake along the sandy beaches for the meaty shellfish.

One of the many mussel rafts within the Rias (Ria de Muros)

From Ria de Muros, we sailed south 15nm with 20-30kn northerly winds, and slight seas to drop anchor at a beautiful spot with views of sand dunes at Ensenada de Corrubedo for the night before rounding into the Ría de Arousa.

The next morning we sailed in calm conditions through the narrow channel into the Ría de Arousa and headed north to anchor alongside the long stretch of white sandy beach at the small town of Ribeira. Protected from the strong northerly winds, we had a pleasant night at anchor while the shops closed for the public holiday of “Virgen del Carmen” (The Patron Saint of sailors).

Early morning, Ribeira
Sunny afternoon at Ribeira beach – Blue Heeler anchored in distance

Dodging the many mussel rafts, we motored 5nm to the fishing port on the Illa de Arousa, grabbing a vacant mooring – one used by fishermen who would no doubt be out fishing in the calm weather. On shore a very new Frioz supermarket was a welcome stop for fresh bread and supplies; opposite a self-serve laundry – probably the best I’ve ever used in all my travels (it’s the little things that please me nowadays…).

Mooring at Illa de Arousa

Taking a stroll during siesta, we wandered along the open market-place before finding a little bar on the other side of the island where we stopped for beer and tapas before heading back to Blue Heeler for our own siesta.

Local Galician beer and tapas – estupendo!

With a slight breeze the following morning, we sailed 20nm to a protected beach at Enseada da Barra on the northern entrance to Ría de Vigo. To discover all these anchorages, we use a combination of pilot guides (Reeds Nautical Almanac, Cruising Association’s Cruising Almanac), plus more often than not we use Navily – a user-friendly app with reviews by cruisers and sailors. ActiveCaptain is still available through Navionics but it’s a little dated.

To catch up with friends on S.Y. Walrus, we motored across the Ría de Vigo to the touristy town of Baiona. It was great to finally catch up with the crew.

Downtown Baiona

The anchorage at Baiona is good in calm conditions. Days of stillness brought in heavy fog and mist along the entire coastline. This reminded us of the passage from the Azores to Ireland where we experienced similar misty conditions.

Calm conditions at Baiona

Baiona’s Fortaleza de Monterreal attracts the tourists, as does the many cafes and bars along the back lanes of the old town. Baiona is a pleasant stop but I really wanted to spend some time at the famous Atlantic Islands of Galicia. Boats must have a permit to visit these islands. The permit can be obtained through this link. Once permission is granted (which takes a couple of business days), you can then nominate which days you want to anchor – this last part can be done directly online and is approved immediately.

View of Baiona from the ramparts of the Fortaleza

The Ilhas de Cies – one of the most visited places in Galicia – has notably the ‘best beach in the world’. (While the Praia de Rodas is certainly a lovely stretch of sand, I would consider the white sandy beaches of Western Australia deserve a special mention).

Praia de Rodas beach, Ilhas de Cies – Best beach in the World, but too cold to swim!

We anchored at the Praia de Rodas beach – quite calm except for the influx of regular ferries churning up the water, each dumping loads of visitors to the island. Nonetheless, it’s worth a trip ashore to walk up to the Faros de Cies for superb views overlooking the Illa de San Martiño to the south. Spectacular! At the campground below is a small supermarket and a cafe for a refreshing drink after the walk.

Spectacular view looking south
The zig-zag trail to the Faros de Cies.

A less common southerly wind was forecast, so we waited until it was upon us and took advantage of the conditions to sail north into the Ría de Pontevedra and anchored outside the small town of Bueu for a couple of nights. Here is a simple town, less touristy, and has a great fish market near the harbour.

Anchored at Bueu in the Ria de Pontevedra
Bueu fish market

With a change in the wind, we returned to Baiona anchorage for a night to prepare for a 54nm passage south.

This is where we leave Spain and head into Portugal.

The pandemic situation is still critical in Spain and Portugal, yet people are out and about, as we are, taking all precautions necessary to enjoy summer as best we can. Masks are mandatory indoors, and most people wear masks outdoors too.

As we sail along the Atlantic coastline, we are mindful of the Orca problem further south and regularly monitor the Iberia Orca website plus Noonsite for any recent news on boat interactions. In fact, we met up with a Dutch couple sailing north who had been harassed by orcas last season. Fortunately they had no boat damage.

As we departed Baiona, skipper saw a large dorsal fin glide out of the water…

(don’t worry folks…photo below isn’t real!).

Let’s hope we don’t cross any rudder-nibblers!!

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Back in the early noughties at Perth Central TAFE in Western Australia I spent a few years studying the Spanish language, with the outcome of a general understanding how to order food, greet people, how to buy a train ticket, plus a myriad of verb conjugations.

Over the past decade I’ve not had much opportunity to develop Spanish, as French seems to be more widely spoken, at least in the places we’ve visited. Words associated with sailing – such as describing the boat, docking in a marina, or locating the nearest customs officer – were not on the curriculum. It’s been many years since either of us have whispered any Spanish (BTW skipper did 1st year Spanish), and we are getting by pretty well. No hay problema!

To help us along the way, new words such as babor (port), estribord (starboard), manga (beam), eslora (length), and calado (draught), are now part of our daily lexicon.  The ability to call ahead on VHF09 to a Puerto Deportiva is gratifying when they understand what it is I’m calling about. Understanding their reply isn’t always easy but a simple ‘repita por favor’ usually helps. Claro!

So, off we go along the north coast of Spain in the…

Bay of Biscay

The common route for cruisers from the north heading to ‘the Med’ is to skip the coastal route of the Bay of Biscay in favour of reaching A Coruña located in Spain’s northwest. A quick passage helps to avoid the chance of getting slapped by any strong winds, and more importantly the large swells, rolling in from the Atlantic.  A crossing from Falmouth to A Coruña is usually a four-day passage. Our trip from Brest, France, to rounding the north-west of Spain has taken four weeks. A huge chunk out of our 90-day Schengen days for sure, but we’ve visited some really lovely towns and sailed along the rugged northern coastline for spectacular views.

The coast of the Bay of Biscay is undoubtedly tricky to navigate. Many of the harbours and ports have narrow and shallow entries, made more difficult when entering and exiting with strong wind and swell.

Departing La Rochelle late afternoon, we had a 180nn passage to arrive in the wee hours on a Sunday at the old town of…

San Sebastián, Basque Country

San Sebastián, or Donostia as it’s known in Basque, is a short hop from the border with France. This old town is located at the base of Mount Urgull and straddles the western end of the Pyrenees.  We arrived in the dark early on a Sunday morning and calling on VHF09, we were welcomed by a man in a small boat. Despite his lack of English, he understood my Spanish and showed us where we could dock the boat. Once tied up we had a snooze then sought out the Capitán to sort out our stay.

People from Basque Country speak Basque and Spanish.The friendly Capitán of the port spoke Basque as his first language and Spanish his second language; his English somewhere down the list.

The small Puerto Deportivo run by EKP has space for maybe ten yachts similar size to ours, but there were only three at any time during our stay. Generally, two nights is all that is allowed here, but we stayed three nights to wait out a westerly blow. EKP run many of the marinas along this coast and the cost to stay is generally the same – about 40 Euros for our boat per night.

At the time of our visit, face masks were mandatory in outdoor spaces, so we complied. Wearing a mask makes it harder to speak and listen to Spanish but we get by. Businesses were open with no sign of closure anywhere, although I sensed a reduction in tourist traffic. San Sebastián is famous for pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchos’) and tapas so we stopped at a couple of bars to indulge in the tradition of drinking and eating bar snacks. After a few days we travel the short distance to…

Getaria, Basque Country

From San Sebastian we motored 10nm to reach the small port of Getaria also in Basque. This small town is reknown for Spain’s best grilled fish ‘pescado a la parrilla’. We were encouraged by the Capitán of San Sebastián to visit and sample the fish. I was expecting some low-key beachside BBQ setup, but the only eating places near the port were restaurants. The restaurant at the port was our choice and we enjoyed fried calamari followed by a tasty dish of grilled Monkfish.

The challenge to sailing around the coast of the Bay of Biscay is to have good sailing wind. Wind either blows strong from the west, creating steep seas, or zero wind from behind. Or at least that’s what we experienced in June/July. Some days we motored to stay ahead and tuck into a port to allow a stronger westerly wind to blow over. Motor sailing 45nm west from Getaria, we anchored for one night at the port of Bilbao, a large industrial town. Although encouraged to visit the lauded Guggenheim gallery of Bilbao, and as much as I enjoy contemporary art, I’m happy to absorb the beauty of the rugged landscape and geography of the region – natural art. We stay one night then make our way to…

Gijón, Asturias

Our next stop after a 120nm passage from Bilbao was to the delightful town of Gijón in Asturias. With little to no wind or strong westerlies, we stayed at the Puerto Deportivo in Gijón for five nights, giving us time to explore the city, seek out a lavanderia (the marina washing machine wasn’t working) and enjoy the sunny days along the beach or take a ride along the foreshore.

At Gijón, the Spanish Police paid us a visit, merely to check our passports and make sure everything was in order, which it was. We were stamped into the Schengen zone in France so we had no problems with these friendly chaps. After speaking with British and other cruisers, there’s a lot of confusion around Schengen but all the information is available online plus there’s a variety of Facebook groups to share information.

Gijón is the largest city in the autonomous region of Asturias and the 15th largest city in Spain. The shops, leafy parks, wide beach, plus food aromas and fragrant perfumes, make this a great place to hang out for a few days. We also found a radio shop to buy a new portable floating VHF radio as ours had died. Next stop…

Camariñas

From Gijón we had a window of no westerly wind (therefore, no wind), and headed west. A Coruña was on the way, but after five days at Gijón, we decided to continue around the northwest coast and dodge getting stuck in another marina for days on end. Our overnight sail was moonless and dark, with just the coastal towns, fishing vessels and lighthouses guiding the way. News of recent Orca attacks in this region play on my mind, particularly so when a pod of dolphins leapt around the boat sometime during the nautical morning twilight. 

Around the coast to the south of A Coruña is the small town and port of Camariñas, some 180nm from Gijón. A persistent squeak from our steering needed attention so Camariñas was a good place to drop the anchor and give it some TLC. We also identified and sorted out a problem with our bilge pump which turned out to be a fuse.

Anchorage at Camarinas
Puerto de Camarinas

Once ashore, the friendly marina manager gave me a town map and guide to Camariñas. For those that have an interest in embroidery, Camariñas is the Capital of Bobbin Lace. This fact is soon evident as you enter the town and notice the many stores selling fine lace, with dedications to the art dotted throughout the small town. Here we stocked up on supplies at the supermercado, then headed to the marina bar for a relaxing drink overlooking the small fishing boats. Three nights at Camariñas is was time to ride the wind around Cabo Finisterre to the anchorage at…

Enseada de Sardiñero

Cabo Finisterre was named by the Romans as it was thought to be the end of the known world.

Enseada de Sardiñero was a delightful stop after a great 30nm sail from Camariñas. The 2.5m swell and 15-25kn winds gave us a good sail, although a little bumpy at times.

The anchorage was calm with only a hint of swell.

Resting below after a good sailing day, at 9pm we jumped up when a huge Spanish Customs boat (Aduanas) blasted their horn to rouse us and began to dock alongside. Two officers boarded and requested to see our passports and boat registration. The two chaps were friendly and even cracked a joke or two! They were surprised to see a couple of Australians as they had thought we were British (our Aussie flag is often mistaken for British). All in order, they left us with an official piece blue paper stating we’ve been ‘checked’ and which we can show to other officials if asked

With strong winds forecast for the coming days, the next day we motored to Corcubión and dropped anchor just east of the port mooring area. After walking around the town admiring the intricate seaside mosaics then into the nearby town of Cee for fresh supplies, we decided we wouldn’t stay the night, but would take advantage of light westerly winds to sail a little farther down the coast to anchor in the…

Ría de Muros

Even with light winds, we had a good 20nm sail to anchor at Ensenada de Bornalle. The Spanish Rías of Galicia have been our goal for some time so we will take some days to explore this region.

With our 90 days ticking along, we’re travelling at our typical relaxed pace, and will take whatever time we need to see this amazing part of the Atlantic coast. Now that we are out of the Bay of Biscay, winds should be more consistent and favourable.

Southern Spain is experiencing over 40degC and heatwave conditions but up here the weather is quite mild – somewhere between 18-25degC.With the water temperature not over 20degC, I’ll wait a little longer before I don my togs and jump in.

Hasta luego…

Sailing to Ensenada de Bornalle
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