Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal 41:22. 3 N 08:45.9 W

Andy & Jo
Wed 7 Sep 2022 12:43

Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal

After a couple of nights in Moaña marina, a Spanish yacht squeezed into the berth next to us. I say squeezed as it pushed Stargazer tightly onto the pontoon – it was lucky that we had fenders out on the opposite side to the pontoon, as they didn’t! As it was, they were a very nice Spanish couple with a young daughter. They spoke perfect English, with a slight American accent suggesting they’d lived or worked in the US for a time.

However, two days of being squeezed against the pontoon was enough for us, so we made plans for our trip to Portugal which we planned to do via Baiona. Before we left, we headed over to Vigo (Galicia’s largest city) the purpose was to visit the Frontier police (for passport purposes) and for the mate to go shopping for toiletries (the latter being a major expedition). To the mate’s delight we managed to find a kind of Superdrug type shop, many euros later we left the shop, but at least the mate was smiling again (note: this was more like a Boots type shop but this wouldn’t be obvious to the untrained eye!). We enjoyed the ferry ride to Vigo, sometimes it is nice to be on the water with someone else driving. Interestingly the ferry had a bunch of garlic strung up amongst its lights! The mate wasn’t able to find out any information on the maritime significance of this, so if anyone has any idea what this is all about then please let us know.

Vigo was interesting in that it appeared to be a very Northern European type city in the way it looked and whilst we were there, the sky was grey – giving a very familiar feel to the place. We both found the ‘familiarity’ of Vigo (and the colour of the sky) when mixed with Spanish behaviours etc. to be a rather odd mix – hard to explain though it is...

Monument to Jules Verne – Vigo

Downtown Vigo with Merman sculpture

Merman sculpture (with obligatory gull)

Baiona to Póvoa was only around 50 NM and it shortened our trip to Portugal by maybe 3 hours. The mate called the marina at Baiona who assured her that there was plenty of room and so we headed off. Arriving in Baiona mid-afternoon on the 31st August, I called the marina on VHF only to be told “the port is full”. Oh well, this is generally what people say about Baiona – conflicting information and zero customer service.

Undeterred we moved to the anchorage which already had a few yachts in it. Finding our spot, we dropped the hook and chain to around 4 times the depth of water. Taking all the usual transits, all was well – but as the wind was forecast for about 4 knots at most, we weren’t unduly worried about dragging (us or anyone else). The anchorage turned out to be a very pleasant place and we spent two lovely and peaceful nights there. In fact not only did it save on marina fees, it kept us quite a distance away from a music festival that went on into the early hours. As the mate put it – “I’m glad we didn’t pay €30 per day to be kept awake all night”

I was enjoying being at anchor and about to get my hammock out to relax fully up on the foredeck when the mate announced that she wanted to go to Baiona itself. This meant that instead of a little peace and quiet swinging in my hammock on the foredeck that we had to get the dinghy off the rack over the coach-roof (where it lives), pump it up, launch it, get the outboard on etc. But, I must admit that I wanted to go to Baiona too so I couldn’t grumble too much.

As I pulled the outboard starter cord – nothing! Not even an attempt to fire up. Now the dinghy, which we call Pierre (a superb friend of mine knows why), had to be rowed ashore; quite frankly, it was an easy row and probably the best thing to have done as there were so many lines in the water close to shore that the outboard would have got caught up in some of them before we saw them.


*A quick note about the outboard: The outboard is new - it has had its oil changed, a new spark plug fitted and it worked perfectly in Falmouth. A major contribution to its purchase was a very kind gift from the mate’s parents (who were clearly concerned about the mate using our old dodgy two stroke). So the story of our experience in Baiona may not be the kind of story that my in-laws want to hear! But, let me say that the outboard is superb. There is nothing wrong with it. The only problem was that the fuel cut off tap had become dislodged from the lever that operates it – no doubt in all the swell we’d had on the Costa de Morte!

Back to Baiona: we always thought Baiona would be a very pleasant place with its history (it was the first port to hear of Columbus’ discovery of the new world), location and the general perceived air about it. It probably still is, but in all honesty, when we were there it did seem a little ‘tired’. Maybe it was just us, but then again maybe not as we both thought exactly the same thing.

At 0730 on 2nd September, we weighed anchor, motored out of Baiona and pointed our bows towards Portugal. We chose Póvoa de Varzim as we aim to day sail down the Portuguese coast and it was a sensible first stop. The first port you come to is actually Viana do Castelo but that was only 20 NM and didn’t quite get us far enough down the coast. Póvoa is also on the Metro line to Porto (Portugal’s second largest city and the home of Port) which we intended to visit at least once.

The wind was forecast to be fairly light and so we expected to motor sail all the way. However, after a couple of hours the wind filled into a force 4 from the starboard quarter and we enjoyed a rather nice sail (albeit dodging lobster pots – of which I had never seen so many!). A few boats were heading south, some with cruising chutes up and in all honesty, we should have rigged our Spinnaker but a variety of reasons we didn’t. Luckily, Stargazer is a fairly fast boat (a bit of an ocean greyhound) and was able to keep up and/or overtake other boats just using our white sails. The mate finds it funny when I get into (rare these days) ‘racing mode’ but the day was perfect and the boat was fast and safe and sometimes you just want to do the best you can – enough said.

Portuguese courtesy flag hoisted – hoorah!

We arrived in Póvoa at 1750 Spanish time, which was 1650 Portuguese time (Portuguese clock time is the same as the UK). What a lovely welcome we had. Perfect English from extremely polite staff, both on the pontoons and in the office, and a handshake from the marinero welcoming us to Póvoa.

Unfortunately, as I write this (6th September) it seems that a deep low pressure is heading towards Biscay and the south west UK with long trailing fronts affecting the Portuguese trade winds. This means that we have weather from the South and not the North as is usually the case on this coast. Most of the harbours are very well protected from the North, but with weather from the South, they can be closed at any time. The problem with this, is that you don’t know they are closed until you get there (for any sailors – they display a cone and cylinder from the harbour tower by day and associated lights at night). In fact Póvoa was closed yesterday and today.

The other issue is that this season’s first hurricane (meaning a late start to the hurricane season) has developed about 40° north in the mid-Atlantic. It is rare for hurricanes to develop at that latitude and it is expected to reduce in size and disperse in mid ocean. The problem arises as the wind and swell will still be large enough to affect our plans (and the UK’s weather, almost certainly) so we are weighing up our options. The most sensible of which is probably to stay put. We both like Póvoa, the price of the marina is right for our budget and it is one of the most sheltered Portuguese harbours. Its proximity to Porto is also helpful (the mate likes a change of scene every now and then). The next few days will help us decide as we keep up to date with gribs and synoptic charts.

Enough from me; the mate is eager to write something, so I’ll hand over to her…

Hoorah – we have made it to Portugal! Our last night in Galicia was a little mixed – a beautiful sunset, a grungy rock concert in the gardens ashore with lots of roaring and screaming (as Skip said I’m glad we didn’t pay to be in the marina where it would have been much louder) and swell hooking into the anchorage which made it a rather rolly and unsettled night (so we were a bit tired to get the kite up on our run south!). We had a great sail along the Portuguese coast, with a merry band of yachts of varying nationalities making the most of pretty much the only day to make progress south, in bright sunshine and favourable wind.

Sunset over Baiona

We have been trying not to fall into the trap of booking marina berths ahead, a practice that proliferates in the UK and is really unhelpful for cruising sailors as you are never 100% sure where you are going to end up and when. Until Baiona it hadn’t been necessary but the possibilities for anchoring on the Portuguese Atlantic coast are minimal to say the least, so I phoned the marina at Póvoa on approach. The lady that answered the phone spoke perfect English (I had already rehearsed how to say “do you speak English” in Portuguese but didn’t need it), was extremely friendly and welcoming and said they had plenty of room. The marina is large and well-appointed with all the shore side facilities (including a library/reading room, extensive DVD catalogue and laundry at €2.50 a wash – joy!) housed in a grand building accessed using your fingerprint. The pontoons are fingerprint access too and a large boatyard with plenty of boats in varying stages of (dis)repair to keep Skip entertained joins the two.

The marina is well sheltered behind two large breakwaters to keep (most of) the Atlantic out. A walk along the northern breakwater revealed why the port has been closed for the last couple of days. Praise be for concrete!

Sheltered water behind the breakwater

The wild Atlantic on the other side

Portugal seems very civilised and relaxed. The people are very well dressed and groomed – a short walk from the marina revealed at least six hairdressers/beauty salons so I can book in for a much needed haircut! The architecture has a north African influence, with lots of tiled buildings (blue and green are favoured colours), tiled pavements and roads, and even zebra crossings made from tiles. The shops seem much more familiar than in Galicia, and more plentiful (so no prospect of running out of toiletries!). The Metro to Porto takes about 50mins and only costs €1.20 so we are planning to head there tomorrow, and hopefully sample some port. I’ve just Googled “port tasting Porto” and there is no end of cellars and wineries to visit – I’m glad we’ll be on public transport.  It is also Skip’s birthday on Friday so I had better go and do some shopping…

Póvoa old town (Skip matches the sky J)

Póvoa old town – tiles a plenty