Down to the Algarve
31 May – 8 June 2007: The Algarve
We soon exhausted all that Lisbon had to offer, and it was time to continue on our journey South. We had a long way to go to our next chosen port, so it was another early morning start. We headed out of the Tejo River on a lovely sunny morning, and as soon as we were at the river entrance hoisted the sails and pointed the bows towards Cabo Espichel. The wind was light but warm, and for the first time since leaving the UK we were sunbathing on the deck in shorts and T-shirts.
We arrived in Sines in the early evening, and anchored off the Vasco da Gama beach on the other side of the bay to the marina. (After the vast expense of Cascais Marina we are now opting for free anchorages). Sines is the birthplace of Vasco da Gama, and now has a big petrochemical industry. We sailed along a coastline full of huge smoking oil refinery chimneys and vast tankers, but once tucked up inside the harbour we could only see the pretty old part of town. We had a BBQ that evening and enjoyed the peacefulness of the anchorage listening to the waves lap at the beach. The following day we went ashore to explore the town, and found a quaint little village with a relaxed atmosphere. There wasn’t much to do or see (apart from the ruins of the fort where Vasco himself was born…J), but it nice to just wander about taking in the surroundings. That was until we returned to the beach, where 100 school children had just been given a demonstration on what to do if in distress while swimming off a beach. The kids had been given goody bags that contained whistles and they had great fun seeing whose lungs were the strongest by blowing into the whistle incessantly. The noise was deafening!
Ed the Duck looking wistfully at Rahula at anchor in Sines
Then we had another 50-odd mile passage “around the corner” (Cape St Vincent) to the Algarve. We were looking forward to getting down to the South coast of the Iberian Peninsula as we had been told about the perfect sailing conditions there – strong wind and a flat calm sea. The sail from Sines to the Algarve was one of those annoying days when the wind would not make up its mind. One minute we were drifting along in sweltering heat under engine, the next minute we were putting two reefs into the main and reaching for our fleeces! Once we eventually made it around Cape St Vincent we tried anchoring in the first bay we came to (Enseada de Belixe). It was quite windy by this stage, and there were lots of sharp rocks on the shoreline. As soon as we dropped the anchor and the boat settled we both agreed (a rare event!) that this anchorage was not suitable for an overnight stay, so James started hauling in the anchor. I was on the helm getting a great show of James with his shirt off heaving away at the anchor and making lots of manly grunting noises. I then realised that perhaps something was wrong (maybe something to do with my imaginative expletives…J), and sure enough, our anchor was caught on a line along the seabed. We (meaning ME…J) soon freed the anchor, and sailed away to the next bay near Sagres town where we anchored 20m from people sunbathing on the beach.
Cape St Vincent
We sailed from Sagres the following morning in perfect Algarve condition. There was a strong northerly wind blowing and very little swell, which meant Rahula was in her element racing along with very little effort at 8+ knots under a reefed Main and Genoa. Around lunchtime the wind started dropping and we increased sail area, until eventually we were sailing under full Main and our large Drifter. As soon as the Drifter was out Rahula kicked back and sped up, slicing through the small white horses forming on the crests of the wavelets. We were amazed that she could still sail so fast while so heavily laden down (A’s shoes and wash-bag….J). We had a little party dancing to Ride a White Horse by Goldfrapp – This was more like it! Much better than slogging though the large swell on the West Coast as we had been for the last few months. Then the wind built again and Rahula accelerated even more. The whole boat was humming and we agreed (Twice in a week!) it was time to furl the Drifter. The log was now steady at 9 and a bit knots, and we wanted to see if she would make 10 knots. At 9.9knots there was a large twang and the Drifter flew away high above the boat to Starboard (since then I have calibrated the log and we were actually doing 10.2 knots! J). We’d blown the sail! All that was left where the bottom of the sail attaches to the bowsprit is the metal eye…(In fairness to our favourite sail: it is a laminate sail designed to last one or two seasons which is now a decade old! J) We lowered the wounded Drifter into the cockpit and had a fun half hour trying to fold a large laminate sail in a small cockpit in the now strong wind.
All that was left attached to the boat from our nice Drifter sail…
Luckily we were headed for Lagos, which has one of the largest marinas in the Algarve and a resident sail maker. We arrived on a Sunday when everything is shut so we anchored off the Breakwater and enjoyed the sunshine for the rest of the afternoon. Early the following morning we motored into the marina and soon handed over our Drifter to Roberto the Sail Maker (and general boat odd job man, we later found out). Then we took in the surroundings. Lagos marina is huge and was full of British boats. We soon found out that most of these boats had wintered in Lagos, and their crews had formed into a tight knit village community complete with social evening and village gossip. By the end of our first day alongside we knew who was from which boat, where they were headed (mostly the Mediterranean) and who to see if we needed anything done. We heard lots of tales of people planning to do a circumnavigation like us but ending up staying in the Algarve because the boat broke or they liked it here. It was like being in a friendly, sunny marina on the Solent (Is there such a place?!), and it was nice to have some new company.
The town of Lagos wasn’t much different. It was full of British holidaymakers and all the shop owners seemed to be British. The town centre consisted mostly of shops selling beach stuff and Estate Agents. I had a quick look at some of the houses for sale – there are definitely no more bargains to be had on this coast. The houses for sale were mostly apartments in big blocks built specifically as second homes. Even the supermarket had signs in English and sold Heinz Baked Beans and Worcester Sauce!
We used our time in Lagos to do some maintenance and shopping. We even managed to find a Lidl that was selling 12 Volt cool boxes. Since the weather has become warm we have to keep more things in the fridge, which has meant less room for beer and tonic. As there is nothing worse than a warm beer or G&T after (or indeed during…J) a hard days sail we have been toying with the idea of getting another cool box. And there it was! Complete with a fridge motor and cigarette lighter plug. We had to have it. We (meaning Me again! J) lugged it back onboard, filled it with beer, plugged it in and waited. A few hours later we were sat in the sun drinking ice-cold beer. Now we’re cruising! We still need to find a home for it, as at the moment it is living under the chart table…
Our new drinks cool box under the chart table with a home installed thermostat!
As soon as the Drifter was repaired we sailed from Lagos and covered a whole 3 miles to our next destination. Alvor is situated at the end of a large shallow lagoon which reminded us of Chichester Harbour entrance. It was very pretty with red rocks serving as a backdrop to sandy beaches full of wading birds. We anchored off the village in a very crowded bay, trying to find a spot where we wouldn’t swing into another boat. There were quite a few other catamarans in the anchorage including one that we nearly bought instead of Rahula! The Catamaran ‘Two Easy’ was being sold by the part-owner of the brokerage we were dealing with and we put in an offer which was rejected. Unfortunately at the time we could not raise the money to match the asking price so we had to let the boat go. Two Easy was now owned by Keith and Pam, a nice couple who are planning to take her into the Mediterranean. It was interesting to see the boat again with the benefit of hindsight and the experience we now have sailing cats. The good thing is that we both realised that Rahula was a much better boat for us and our plans!
Alvor village is attractive but again very touristy. There were signs everywhere advertising the local water park and we decided to make the most of the hot weather and buy some tickets for the following day. In the morning we awoke to an overcast sky and a chilly wind – sods law! We went anyway and had a great day splashing and sliding. It wasn’t really cold and at least we didn’t have to worry about burning. We left Ed the Duck at the Kiddies Pool (he was below the height restriction for the big slides) and when he was tired he chilled out on a sun bed and caught some rays.
We were sad to leave the idyllic anchorage in Alvor but we had to move on to meet up with our cruising friends before they flew back to Guernsey. So we sailed a whole 6 miles to Portimao and anchored inside the harbour. More on our adventures in Portimao in the next instalment…