27 Aug - pushing south
We left Cascais early on Thursday morning, joining a procession of yachts who had probably read the same weather forecast as us: decent northerly breeze for the next couple of days, going very light over the weekend. It’s around 130nm from Lisbon to Cape St Vincent which we ought to be able to do in 24 hours without breaking sweat, but we decided to put in an overnight stop halfway at the port of Sines.
There are many types of fishing boat on this coast…
The passage was uneventful: we were the only boat to fly a spinnaker and we enjoyed the warm sunshine and a light north westerly swell; it gave us the chance to get the sextant out and practice ‘meridian passage’ - a relatively simple piece of trigonometry where the height of the sun at its highest point in the day (midday at Greenwich, about 35 minutes later where we are) is closely linked to your latitude (once you allow for the tilt of the earth and a few other twiddly bits). I had forgotten almost as much as I ever knew about ‘astro’ so enjoyed brushing off the cobwebs. Julie is impressively keen to understand the theory and has been studying the books hard for a few months now. I just like wielding my late uncle’s star spanner – it first went to sea with him in 1935 and I used it in anger when I was a young Lieutenant in a frigate in the days before GPS. That glorious American invention probably saved my career because I was never much good at the sums!
Where are we? Off Portugal, of course!
Sines is a rather unusual place. It’s as though somebody built a huge breakwater around Brighton Marina. In other words, I don’t think there was ever a ‘natural harbour’ there as such, but a century or so ago someone built a small breakwater to the north of a pleasant sandy beach near a coastal town to encourage some fishing; today, 500,000 tonne supertankers unload their precious cargoes to feed the nearby oil refinery alongside a breakwater with 40m depth either side of it. An extraordinary feat of construction – but not much to look at. You can’t see the massive commercial port from the inner harbour where we dropped anchor around 6pm. The beach was busy; there is a cliff running behind it with a mix of old and new housing on the top (mostly new) and a lot of graffiti. There are some fishing boats at the northern end and a marina at the southern end, but not much activity whilst we were there.
The most memorable sight was a 25 foot Dutch yacht built of plywood which looked like a Brazilian shanty town – covered in mouldy sails, mouldy bedding, empty jerrycans, sundry timber and driftwood, bits of marine equipment no longer working, about twenty random fenders, some sort of kennel with chickens in it hanging off the stern, a good growth of weed on the waterline and no doubt a good growth of weed inside the boat too, man. Not ‘shipshape’ by any stretch of imagination, but he’d clearly got himself from the other side of the Dover Strait…
You don’t need an Oyster to go around the world!
Friday offered more of the same and we had the spinnaker set by the time the shops opened. It stayed there all day until we gybed to round Cape St Vincent in the later afternoon, whereupon we sorted ourselves out quite quickly and came to anchor within a mile or so of the headland off the Praia do Belixe. Fantastic limestone cliffs, deep caves and a wonderful sandy beach beckoned. We were the only boat there and it was a very good feeling to think that we had got ourselves from Pompey to the Algarve in our lovely boat with so few problems and so many great adventures along the way.
The view from my bedroom window
So we stayed there on Saturday. Went swimming – the water is significantly warmer than in Galicia – explored the caves in the rubber boat, landed on the beach and bought ice creams from the beach café. It’s a glorious beach, slightly marred by a small posse of Naturists towards one end. Many years ago I spent a weekend in a Naturist colony in the middle of France. It was an odd experience, but we were isolated from the rest of the world so nobody cared. Here at Belixe, I could not get my head around the small posse of half a dozen Naturists (all men) proudly strutting through the surf surrounded by families in more conventional beachwear. But nobody else seemed to give a fig (sic), so perhaps I’m just a bit prudish?
Fine rock formations at Belixe
And swimming pool water!
Today, once I had made some arrangements for our maintenance period in Gibraltar next month, we left mid-morning to make our way east to Lagos. Along the way, we conducted a beach recce of some promising looking anchorages along this beautiful piece of coast. We have seen some of the caves and cliffs in the part of Portugal before, but were unprepared for the scale and complexity of the rock formations at Ponta de Piedade, just a couple of miles south of the marina at Lagos. They reminded us a bit of the Bungle Bungles in Northern Australia. It’s a major tourist attraction, so when we return over the next few days, we may need to get up early to beat the crowds and the local boatmen, but we anchored for half an hour to take it all in and have a swim before coming into Lagos.
Here, the old town promises much and we will explore tomorrow. The marina is expensive, we are a camel hike from the amenities, we have found all the British tourists we have been missing over the last three months and I have not heard Portuguese spoken since we arrived! Still the laundry is done, the boat is clean and our good friends Nick and Beverly Lambert join us tomorrow. The omens are good!