31st July – 4 August
We set off at 0730 in order to be at the bridge for low water. It was (as always) quite scary as we approached because it didn’t seem possible that we could actually fit underneath; however I’m pleased to report we still have our radio Ariel and Windex secure on the top of the mast! The motor up the river was interesting in more ways than one – the depth varied from 2.2 metres to 19 metres so we did have some fun trying to work out just where the deep water channel lay even using the guide book! The scenery was delightful and gradually the river banks became steeper and we saw fewer signs of habitation apart from the odd farmhouse derelict or redeveloped. The banks had masses of bamboo growing close to water and we also saw wild hibiscus, orange, lemon and fig trees growing on the hillsides. There were several very small settlements with pontoons to tie up to, we checked the depth out and it seemed to be o.k. but did not stop at these as we wanted to get to Alcoutim. The trip up river took us some 3 hours but we finally rounded the last bend and there on either side of the river were the two towns of Sanlucar (Spanish side) and Alcoutim.
All the pontoons were full so we duly anchored and had lunch. By this time the tide was flooding hard and we witnessed a forest of flotsam swirling past much of which seemed determined to catch on our anchor chain or the dinghy. Jack was kept very busy clearing it all regularly. We ranged around quite a bit as the wind was coming from the north and when we saw a motor boat disappearing past us dragging it’s anchor we decided perhaps a place on the pontoon would be preferable! Nigel and Rob set off in the dingy to try and rescue the motor boat but were unable to do much as they couldn’t get the anchor up. There was no-one on board having been taken ashore by an accompanying jet ski for lunch we believe! The boat was finally stopped when it hit another yacht anchored in its path and snagged their anchor chain! Another boat nearby set off to try and sort out the problem accompanied by a second rib. It proved to be quite an nice entertainment for Gail, Jack and I as we sat sunning in the cockpit while the guys had a siesta. The boat was finally sorted out as 3 guys got on board got the anchor up and then towed it – using two tenders to a shallow spot and re-anchored it. Several hours later we witnessed the jet-ski charging off upstream and then it towed the motor boat back to the by then very stressed out owners!
We managed to get alongside the southernmost pontoon at Alcoutim around 1700 when a small launch headed off back down river. The new facilities (only opened last year) consisted of a marina office building finished but not open; a shower and toilet block with cold showers and one loo door missing in the ladies. All very clean and with the temperatures as they were a cold shower was very acceptable! The town or more like large village was charming lots of narrow cobbled lanes, several banks, one tiny supermarket and several cafes and bars. The castle and museum on the top of the hill were available to visit and across the bridge there was a Posada and what appeared to be an outdoor activities centre. However the best discovery was a marvellous sandy beach on a stretch of a river tributary which had been created to provide a swimming area safe from the main river and its currents and debris! What a find!! We went every day and enjoyed lazing in the water, drinking beers from the cafe (at 80c) and lying on the grassy banks (for those who don’t do sand i.e. Rob) or under the palm umbrellas on the sandy beach.
It did get very hot up river and we think next time we visit it will be later in the year. We had two excellent meals at one of the restaurants whose prawns in garlic and chilly were particularly good.
On the first afternoon we witnessed a funeral as we sat at the local bar (next to one of the two churches). The whole village seemed to be there including the harbour master and local policeman and the coffin was finally brought out and laid on to a what appeared to be an extended golf buggy. The procession then went to the other church and then came back and set off for the burial ground up a very steep, narrow cobbled lane.
We met some very nice folk on other boats and exchanged information about places to visit etc.
Jack enjoyed feeding a family of young Muscovy ducks that arrived most mornings squeaking for food. It was fun to watch them using the rafts of bamboo and other debris as floats to rest from swimming against the current in the river.
Early one morning Rob took the dinghy to explore a small tributary and came back with a tale of having seen a snake swimming across the river in front of him! (rather put paid to my idea of swimming in the river I can tell you!) Next day Jack and Rob went off again but no snake was seen – however they did return with some ‘scrumped’ fruit from a riverside orchard – figs, limes and pomegranates! On our journey back down river another snake was seen crossing in front of the boat!
One day we took the dinghy across the river to visit Sanlucar and wandered around this tiny settlement – not as far as the castle which was definitely a hill too far! But the church was cool and quiet with beautiful fairly modern stained glass windows. The view across the river was lovely too. (see photographs on separate pages). There was a nice bar next to the pontoon where we enjoyed a couple of cooling beers before returning to the boat. Another plus for this spot was we were able to get free WIFI using Algarve digital! We managed to book the transfer for Nigel and family to be collected from Vila Real so headed back down stream on Monday late morning as the ebb started.
We topped up with fuel at the pontoon outside the marina (our first since Oeiras near Lisbon), before going into the marina to lay on the waiting pontoon overnight.
We had a celebratory bottle of bubbly to say cheerio to Gail Nigel and Jack who were duly picked up by Bestday travel on time for their transfer to Faro airport; we shall miss their company.
So now it is just the two of us for several weeks – we are not sure where we will go but hey that’s what this trip is all about – no definite times of schedules etc.
Jacky and Rob