Algarve 3: Faro to Vila Real
18 - 23 June 2007: The Algarve 3 (Faro to Vila Real de Santo Antonio)
We had a great sail East to the Guadiana river, avoiding two huge Tunny Nets along the way. As we got closer to the river mouth the wind had built to a Force 5 and the waves made it difficult to spot the harbour breakwater or leading buoys. We sailed on, hoping that we will spot one of the buoys as we got closer – otherwise it was a long sail to the next safe harbour. Finally James saw a red dot in between the white horses on the waves, and we were in.
We initially went into the marina in Vila Real de Santo Antonio on the Portuguese side of the river. This gave us a spot to wait for the tide to continue up river and somewhere to restock the boat after a week at anchor. The town was really nice, with cobbled pedestrianised streets and an attractive waterfront lined with palm trees. It was strange to think that Spain was just across the water.
Rahula in Portugal with Spain in the Background
Once we had topped up with water, food and beer (essential cruising stores…J) we set sail and headed up river. The first obstacle was the suspension bridge that had a 20m chartered height. Our mast is allegedly 16m, so we should have had plenty of room, but things always look closer from below. I held my breath as we went under the bridge, and as there was no loud crunch I knew we were safe. James, being a born navigator, kept his cool all along (like a swan…J).
Once clear of the bridge we had a lovely cruise up the river, admiring the pretty views and watching out for jumping fish and birds. We came across several other yachts along the way, including a Dutch catamaran we had befriended in Povoa de Varzim all those weeks ago. There were charming isolated villas tucked high on the hillside with a yacht swinging on a mooring nearby on the river; pretty flowers along the river bank, and plenty of shallow patches to keep our concentration. After 4 hours of motoring and sailing we arrived at Alcoutim, which is about as far up river as one can go without the certainty of running aground. We found a free mooring and picked it up, then sat back and enjoyed the surroundings.
The following day we motored off in our trusty tender (why won’t the engine break?! I want a new shiny one, at the moment it is literally held together with string but it just keeps going!…J) against the 2 knots of tidal stream that run down the river to visit the Portuguese town of Alcoutim. The town itself is tiny but had a 16th Century castle and archaeological museum that was worth a look around. After the 15 minutes that that took we had run out of ideas to fill up the day until lunch, so we did the usual Amelia and James thing and went for a ‘wander’. This meant at least a two hour walk, luckily this time along a marked trail that lead us to the town’s other attraction; a river-beach which incidentally was the first in Europe to get a blue flag award. The beach was like a little oasis with warm fresh water and soft sand so we went for a paddle before our walk back for a well earned lunch of barbequed sausages by the main river.
Alcoutim River Beach – who needs to sail to the Pacific Islands?!
The afternoon saw our first visit to Spain for over a month; we set off in the dinghy across the river to Sanlucar. If Alcutim was a sleepy hollow, this place was in a coma. Another Amelia and James ‘wander’ took us up to the Spanish 16th Century castle on a hill twice as high as the Portuguese one. The castle is a ruin and was quite spooky with some creaking iron doors left over by its last inhabitants and dark deserted rooms. The views were great across the rolling hills of both Spain and Portugal. Once down from the hill and after a fruitless search for ice cream (or indeed any signs of intelligent life, J) we returned to Rahula for another night on the river and a game of Scrabble (I won again…J).
We left the following morning as the ebb tide started and marvelled again at the beautiful scenery of the river, whilst enjoying the sunshine. The stream ran a little quicker than expected and with a narrow entrance to the marina to negotiate when back at Vila Real we decided to anchor just north of the suspension bridge for a spot of lunch and to wait for the stream to lose its edge. We felt like cooling off and with our new fitness regime (two runs since leaving the UK) a swim was in order. We streamed a float behind Rahula and went in to battle against the two knot current with varying degrees of success. It was like a swimming treadmill – a real struggle just to stay still. It was a good job the rope and float were there otherwise we may had made Morocco sooner than we thought!! We dried off, had lunch and returned to Vila Real for the night before heading to Spain again.