“Have some madeira, m’dear,
You really have nothing to fear;
I’m not trying to tempt you, that wouldn’t be right,
You shouldn’t drink spirits at this time of night.
Have some madeira, m’dear,
It’s so very much nicer than beer.
I don’t care for sherry, one cannot drink stout,
And port is a wine I can well do without.
It’s simply a case of chacun á son gout.
Have some madeira, m’dear!”

Flanders & Swan

Madeira is an archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean and like the Azores, is an autonomous region of Portugal. The ‘Azores High’ pressure systems move easterly across the Atlantic Ocean in a clockwise direction, producing northerly winds on the front edge of the system. A slow-moving high was just the right condition to jump on and sail 460nm south to Madeira.

The voyage from Portimao took 81 hours, so we averaged around 5.7kn – that’s pretty good for our boat. Conditions were calm at least for a few hours until we escaped from the wind shadow on the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, then conditions piped up; 2-3m seas with northerly winds up to 28kn. Day one conditions sorted out our sea-legs and by day two when conditions eased, we were settled into our routine and even managed to get some sleep.

Our goal was to reach the anchorage at Porto Santo by Friday night, and unless we were becalmed (which was highly unlikely), we had no reason to think we would not arrive as planned. Consistent 15kn winds and a slight southerly current helped us arrive as planned.

As usual when sailing offshore, we resumed three-hour watches so the bulk of our time is spent unaccompanied in the cockpit with the other attempting to catch up on sleep. This takes a couple of days to get into a rhythm – it’s not easy to try and sleep when you’re not sleepy. It’s also not easy to sleep when you’re really tired and it’s 2pm in the afternoon! But since this was only a three-day passage, arriving late afternoon meant we could have a good night’s sleep when we arrive and drop the anchor. Life on board is all about keeping watch, sleeping, eating, listening to podcasts, and maybe repairing an old flag.

Ships heading towards the Straits of Gibraltar kept us on our toes; at least every couple of hours we had to dodge a ship with a closest point to us of less than 0.5nm. Watching their heading, we can see if they alter course and only change our course if required. One small vessel popped up on AIS and was thirty minutes from intersecting with us. Turns out it was a solo sailor on a six metre Mini Transat boat traveling at 8-9 knots. At 2am in the morning he had no lights on so we called him up on VHF to tell him we couldn’t see him. He’d been sleeping below and forgot to put the lights on! As he was to starboard, we altered course and let him go by. A fleet of Transats came through one by one during the night and following day on their way to the Canaries, then onto the Caribbean. Over 80 Transats will sail over 4,000 from Les Sables d’Olonne to Saint-François in Guadeloupe, with a stopover in Santa Cruz de La Palma.

Day three the conditions were sunny with 10-15kn; perfect to hoist the spinny. Approaching the island of Porto Santo, the island to the north of Madeira, we eventually doused the spinny and unfurled the foresail to sail around the island to anchor by 5.30pm – just in time for beer-o-clock! Timing is everything…

Approaching Porto Santo

For the first multiple overnight sail in a long time, it was a great reminder of how pleasant offshore sailing can be. My recollections of sailing the Southern Atlantic Ocean back in 2015 brings only good memories – the trip from St Helena to Martinique took 28 days and I think we were on one tack the whole way!

Sunrise – my favourite time

This voyage reminded me how much I prefer ocean sailing compared to coastal sailing. While coastal sailing can be fun in the right conditions, typically, trying to reach an unknown anchorage before darkness while belting into headwinds and steep seas caused by wind-against-tide, isn’t always fun. On the other hand, out on the ocean the boat sails with the wind, the ocean swells lifting the boat up and down. The best thing I enjoy about offshore sailing are sunsets and sunrises and the nighttime. During this trip we had no moon whatsoever, so the sky was brilliant with stars – Venus shone brightly to the south, with Saturn and Mars to the east. Astronomical twilight ends around 8.30pm and the horizon begins to lighten around 5.30am, giving us around nine hours of total darkness. Brilliant!

The IridiumGo worked well and with an unlimited data plan we didn’t feel constrained to budget our data minutes, like we used to with our previous Iridium satphone package. Of course we can’t use the IridiumGo for internet, but we get the weather twice daily and send messages to people we know might be interested to know where we are. It was actually a nice break from the internet and the ‘noise’ associated with social media. The Raymarine Tiller Pilot worked well in light conditions, but our main autopilot was better for the rough conditions.

Porto Santo Anchorage

After 81 hours, we arrived at the anchorage at Porto Santo, the island north of Madeira. The anchorage was particularly rolly, and the inner harbour was full of anchored boats. So early the next morning after a good nights sleep, without going ashore, we departed and headed 30nm south to anchor at the east end of Madeira at Enseada da Abra. Here we stayed on board before sailing to Funchal where we could check in proper with the authorities before going ashore.

Stunning rock formation at Enseada de Abra, Madeira

The distance between Porto Santo and Madeira is only 30nm. In that short space, the depths descend to around 3kms, and within a short distance the depth reduces to around 50m nearer the island and steep seas settle in the shallower water.

Approaching Madeira

To adhere to COVID regulations, prior to departing Portimao, we completed the online travel registration form at MadeiraSafe, although I think it’s more for travellers aboard ferries and planes. Before going ashore however, we called the Maritime Police who requested we send via Whatsapp our vaccination certificates. Within five minutes they confirmed we were okay to go ashore.

Dinghy tie-up at Funchal Marina

At Funchal Marina, there are places to tie up the dinghy deep inside, although not a great amount of room. Upon arrival on shore, we also had to visit the Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR) office at the marina, where we had our passports and boat papers checked. Our stay in Portugal was again reconfirmed as valid and we could stay as long as we needed to (until end December 2021 that is).

The marinas are full and busy with yachts from Europe, so we were unable to enter. Our only option was to anchor off the town of Funchal just outside the port. Port dues are 8 Euros a day, so that’s a fair price considering where we are. Only problem is that we are totally exposed to the south and have nowhere to go if a southerly comes in. Gulp…

So, while we have some fine days ahead, we will explore and see what Madeira has to offer.

Until then…

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It’s time to go. Already October and the change in weather from summer to autumn is noticeable. Daylight hours are getting shorter, although the sun is still warm and glorious – warm enough to enjoy but not too hot to be uncomfortable. The evenings are cooler and the night skies are clear and fresh. This time last year in Old Blighty, we were settling into our winter berth for six months…

To the east of Portimão we sailed 38nm to the island of Culatra, near the small fishing town of Olhão and the town of Faro. Along the way, we stopped at the local tourist attraction, Benagil Cave – the swell entering the cave was too much to land the dinghy so I chose to jump in and swam to get some photos from inside the cave.

Benagil Cave, Algarve, Portugal
Benagil Cave, Algarve, Portugal
View from inside looking up: Benagil Cave, Algarve, Portugal

The light conditions on this day trip gave us a chance to play with our latest purchase – a Raymarine tiller pilot. The tiller pilot is setup to operate the pendulum arm on our Windpilot so it doesn’t require a lot of effort, uses only 0.5A and doesn’t need the wind to operate it. Once calibrated, it worked a treat, steering us all the way to Culatra. Besides using the windvane on the Windpilot, this system gives us another option for steering should we have any issues with our main auto-pilot.

Raymarine Tiller Pilot – Skipper’s new toy

The entrance to the inlet around Culatra is narrow with strong currents, which can be fierce in the wrong conditions. We entered on a calm day at slack water and motored in doing 8kn, watching the whirlpools as we motored through.

The island of Culatra is a relaxing stop in this region. The anchorage is broad and quite exposed but we enjoyed good conditions during our stay. Water taxis and fishing vessels upset the water making like aboard a little bouncy, but it’s a small price to pay for an anchorage with good holding. There’s no place to tie-up a dinghy in Olhão as far as we know, so to get there you’ll need to catch the ferry or a water taxi.

Anchorage at Culatra, looking north to Olhão

The fishing port on Culatra has a small section to tie up the dinghy and it’s a short walk across the island to the beach on the Atlantic side. The small village of Farol on the west of the island is quiet and it seems that only a few tourists were occupying the decorated bungalows. A walk from the fishing port at Culatra, along the north shore to Farol, through the village and along the southern beach is a worthwhile 8km walk back to Culatra’s fishing port. This was a nice couple of hours spent chatting and walking with Sheila from Kantala.

The ferry to Farol or Olhão is now running on the winter schedule, which isn’t very often. The small town of Olhão has plenty of cafes and eateries, and behind the waterfront businesses, the alleyways and narrow streets open up to decaying buildings from bygone eras – some of which are enhanced with colouful graffiti and dramatic scenes. Olhão is the street-art capital of the Algarve, although I wasn’t aware of this when I visited. Painting is a great idea to brighten up an otherwise drab streetscape.

Mercados de Olhão

Back at the boat we spent time preparing for offshore. Making good use of our Portuguese Vodafone unlimited internet, we updated our Navionics and iNavX charts and uploaded files to ‘the cloud’ for safe-keeping. Planning for offshore sailing is our priority and we tick off jobs from our list each day.

For offshore communications, we’ve upgraded to an IridiumGo. On previous voyages we used an Iridium 9555 satphone for gribs and communications, so we are familiar with Iridium generally, but there are cool new features with the IridiumGo and PredictWind. Our secondary communication system, which we’ve used on every ocean passage, is our Icom SSB, and have recently installed new copper grounding to improve the quality of communication.

Returning to Portimão as our departure port, we filled our diesel tanks, and filled our lockers with goodies from Lidl and Pingo Doce; mostly because shopping here is so convenient and we will likely be at anchor or at sea over the next couple of months.

Final jobs aboard done, we are now waiting for a steady high-pressure system to blow from the north whereupon we’ll catch the wind south. While we wait, we finish off a few small jobs during the day and enjoy cooking on the Cobb bbq from the aft deck. Pizza anyone?

So that’s it for now. Adeus Continental Europe. It’s been fun! Now it’s time to go sailing.

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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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