37 57.051N 008 51.960W
Date: Friday 11th September 2015
Position: Moored in the Marina at Sines, the Algarve
When I was young there were three things that I thought would never happen in my lifetime. The reason I thought this was because to my inexperienced mind the parties involved in each instance seemed so far apart in their views that it was inconceivable there could ever be agreement between them. The three things where that Nelson Mandela would never be released from his jail in South Africa, there would never be peace in Northern Ireland and the Berlin Wall would never come down! But I am pleased to say that I have been proved wrong in each instance. Nelson Mandela was indeed released from his prison and went on to become the President of South Africa, the Good Friday agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland and I had just left the army when the citizens of Berlin tore down the wall that had divided their city and country for decades. It just goes to show that human beings have the capacity to set aside their differences for the sake of peace and understanding how ever difficult the situation seems at the time. It gives me hope for the future but I just wish the Middle East would get their finger out and get on with it!
The reason I mention this is because I met a young East German couple, Marcus and Christina, while I was in Lisbon. They arrived the day after I returned and moored next to me. They were on their way back from the Mediterranean and had decided to lay their boat up in Lisbon for three months to return to Leipzig, Cristina because she had a series of exams she had been studying for in alternative medicine and Marcus just to return home for a few months. I invited them for supper one evening along with an Irish chap called Bill whose wife had returned home which meant he was on his own. We had a really pleasant evening during which it dawned on me that Marcus, who was thirty-eight, was probably one of the first East German generations to really benefit from the reunification of East and West. He was thirteen at the time and still remembers how things were in East Germany before reunification. Christina is a little younger than Marcus so only knows how things are now. I got the impression that Marcus had had several quite decent jobs in the past that had allowed him to take a sabbatical from working to pursue his and Cristina’s dream of sailing around the Mediterranean. They had brought a 47ft Jeanneau DS (Deck Saloon) for €120,000 and had been living aboard her for the past year or so. Before reunification this would probably have been unthinkable. Not least because the average East German person could never have earned enough money to contemplate doing such a trip let alone taking into considerations the restrictions on life in general in East Germany at the time. But here they were on their own boat doing the same as the rest of us. Good for them!
Bill was an interesting character. He must have been in his late sixties and is a musician. He plays bass guitar and has worked with the likes of Herman’s Hermits, Ring Star (after the Beatles had split up) and David Sole to mention a few. He was very unassuming in the way he spoke but one or two little snippets he gave away made me think there was a lot more to him than he was letting on and I wanted an opportunity to delve deeper. My chance came a few days later. Marcus and Christina had left and Bill was having a problem with his autopilot. He had a hydraulic drive unit that had failed due to the hydraulic fluid reservoir, a glass container, exploding under pressure. It had been repaired but whoever had repaired it had not bled the system properly so his steering was very spongy. Between the two of us, and with an instruction manual, we managed to blead the system properly and he was delighted with the result. So as a thank you that evening he invited me out for dinner, my chance to get to know him a bit better.
He was from Cork and had been sailing competitively for most of his life so he was an experience sailor. As I mentioned earlier he was a bass guitarist and had played with some well know bands as well as being a session musician. He also owned his own music business, which he still runs with his daughter I think. I got the impression that he was one of those entrepreneurs that had been involve in many different businesses and had had his share of good times and bad times. At one time he had owned property abroad and moved in the circles of the very rich but was equally at home with us ordinary folk. He came across as a very modest man even though he was sailing around in a 49ft boat. We got around to talking about sailing and he told me that during his life he owned sixteen boats. I was suitably impressed until he said that he had lost six of them, two when he wasn’t even on board. One had been lost when a crew he had hired to sail his boat back to Ireland hit a floating container. This is becoming a big problem for small sailing boats especially on ocean passages. These large container vessels do occasionally loose containers over the side especially in stormy weather. Some containers sink straight away and are not a problem but others can keep afloat and become a danger to navigation especially if their position is not reported. Just another problem to be aware of when sailing the high seas I suppose. He told me another story about two chaps he had hired to crew for him, which was pretty scary. One turned out to be an alcoholic who would go ashore at night and get completely out of his head. Then he would return to the boat and become abusive and violent towards Bill and the other crewmember until the other crewmember jumped ship and left Bill alone with him. A few nights later when he returned to the boat more drunk than usual he threatened Bill with a knife and chased him all over the boat until Bill had to take refuse in one of the cabins and barricaded him self in. He wouldn’t let Bill out because he thought Bill would call the police and so he stayed outside the door of the cabin until he eventually fell asleep. Bill, quite rightly, stayed barricaded in the cabin until the next morning when he discovered that the man had left sometime during the night. He didn’t see him ever again thank god. Quite a sobering story and at the extreme end of things perhaps but during my research for this trip I came across some equally unpleasant story of skippers taking on crew that they didn’t know. In some cases it can be as simple as people not getting on with each other in a very confined space but you can usually rub along together until you reach the next port and then part company. But in other cases you can get situations the likes of which Bill found himself in. There is also the other side to consider as well. When you are ashore in the pub, talking to the skipper of the boat you are about to crew for, he may talk the talk and seam very pleasant at the time but it is not until you get out to sea and find you have joined the crew of the Bounty and the skipper is, in fact, Captain Bligh himself. It’s a bit to late then! There are some skippers who would rather take the risks involved in sailing solo than to take on crew they don’t know and you can’t criticize them for this approach. This is not the main reason why I am undertaking this part of my voyage solo but it was a consideration. Not that I am Captain Bligh you understand, well that is until Bobby joins me then we will see! Anyway, Bill had to leave a few days later to go to Hungary to watch his son who was entered in an international kayaking competition. In the meantime he had hired another crew to sail his boat back to Cork. Lets hope they don’t loose this one for him! A few days later it was time for me to move on from Lisbon as well.
I decided that rather than going to Gibraltar, as I had originally planned, I would instead make for Lagos in preparation for the much longer passage to Madeira and finally the Canary Islands. It was about 170 Nm to Lagos from Lisbon but as I had time in hand I stopped off at a port called Sines, which is about halfway between Lisbon and Lagos. Over the years Sines, pronounced Singes, has grown from a small fishing port into a much larger commercial port. After passing through the commercial port you enter a much smaller and quieter port. On the left hand side are the remains of the fishing fleet, on the right hand side is the small but adequate marina and between the two a long sandy beach right in front of you. You are permitted to anchor in the bay providing you stay out of the way of the fishing boats and don’t impede the marina traffic but you still have to pay for the privilege although it is half the fee of the marina which in this case would have been €10 a night. I decided not to put my hook down but opted instead to book into the marina, which lived up to the excellent write up it had been given in the pilot book. The facilities where good, it was relatively cheap in comparison to other marinas but the thing that impressed me most of all was that the Wi-Fi actually worked. In fact it was so good that I could stream films from the Internet so I ended up staying longer than I originally anticipated just so I could have a few evenings of entertainment. I know, I should read a book if I am bored but sometimes there is just no substitute for a good film. I watched a film call “Sleuth” one evening, which is one of my favorite films of all time starring Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine. In most, in fact, in all the other marinas I have visited so far the Wi-Fi connection had been intermittent to say the very least. I wondered why in such a small out of the way marina they could get the Wi-Fi right but in bigger much swankier marinas it always seemed to be a problem. I found out the answer a few days later when I was booking into Lagos Marina. I was dealing with the formalities when a chap came in to ask for the Wi-Fi connection details. He spouted on about how in general Wi-Fi connections were bad in all the marinas he had visited and then said, “the only marina I have been to where the Wi-Fi actually worked was” I stopped him in his tracks and said “I know the place you are just about to mention, it’s Sines isn’t it”? “Yes, that right” he replied. The girl behind the counter then piped up and in a slightly defensive tone and by way of mitigation in respect of the lack of Wi-Fi in Lagos Marina explained that the local council authority ran the marina in Sines and had pumped millions of Euros into the infrastructure. I thought to myself that for what you are charging to stay here for a month you should be putting millions of Euros into your infrastructure to keep your clients happy. I didn’t say it out loud though.
The only problem with Sines is that the town is located at the top of a steep hill. There are no shops or facilities near the marina save for a small coffee shop just outside and the one bar on the beach was closed. So if you wanted anything you had to climb up the hill to the town. There is a public lift from the beach to the top of the cliff but it was just as easy to walk up and healthier, although I did take the lift on one occasion when I was feeling particularly tired. The town is small and there were not really that many facilities for the visiting yachtsman. All the big supermarkets where located outside of town and a bit of a hike on foot. There were two mini supermarkets in the town, which were adequate enough for my needs though and I also found a decent butchers shop. There was the usual array of bars and restaurants littered allover the town but in truth it was not the kind of place to stay long term I felt. In fact, over the time I spent there I noticed there was a constant turnover of boats in the marina. They seemed to arrive spend one or maybe two days at most and then move on. So the impression I got was that it was mainly used by boats in transit rather than a place for laying up longer term although there were one or two foreign flagged vessels that were there for the winter.
Have you ever been going about your daily business when suddenly a smell hits your nostrils and invokes a distant memory that is completely unrelated to the source of the smell you are experiencing. This happened to me at Sines. I was washing my hands and as I used the soap dispenser the smell from the liquid in my hands hit my nostrils and took me back to my childhood and to memories of Hubba Bubba chewing gum. Ah, those were the days! Long hot summers, six weeks school holidays and nothing to do except play soldiers in the woods, build dens in the hayricks and generally kick about the farm without a care in the world. Well I say without a care in the world but there was, of course, one serious matter that needed very careful thought. How much pocket money you had left, how many sweets this would buy you and what sweets should you buy that would last the longest. Off to the village shop I would go and stand there in front of the counter taking ages to weigh up the pros and cons of each sweet on offer before making my final selection. My bag always contained Fruit Salads and Black Jacks (I’m sure they’re not call that now) they were the staples. Then a Gobstopper or two because they lasted for ages and when you got fed up with sucking on one you could always put it in your pocket for later, although you would have to pick the fluff off before reusing it. Aniseed Balls were similar to Gobstoppers, albeit smaller, but you got loads in a packet so these too would last for ages. Then there had to be some chewing gum of some description, which is where the Hubba Bubba comes in. If not Hubba Bubba then Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum instead, but Hubba Bubba was the best for blowing bubbles. Remember that? You would have competitions to see who could blow the biggest bubble and you ended up with a face full of pink goo stuck to you. The other advantage of chewing gum over other sweets was that even when the flavor had gone you could still keep on chewing. But if you were clever, you could chew one piece until the flavor was beginning to go, then chew another piece until the flavor in that one was also disappearing and then by combining the two together you could really squeeze out the last bit of the flavor from both and this always seemed to make the flavor last longer somehow. After that it was a free for all for a place in the sweetie bag depending on how much pocket money I had leftover. Love Hearts where good if there were a girl involved, or perhaps a Sherbet Fountain? Now that was two sweets in one, Sherbet and Liquorish. Liquorish was also a good one to have, not the soft chewy type you get nowadays, but the good old fashioned hard as nails type that would take you all morning just to bit the top off if you didn’t loose your front teeth in trying. For some strange reason these Liquorish sticks always had a flattened top, just to help you get started I suppose. Of course, those heady days of being young with no responsibility didn’t last forever. Those long hot summers of kicking around the farm gave way to working on the farm to earn extra pocket money for the holidays. When the farmer and his family were away on holiday I would look after the animals, their dog called General, the farm cats and the newly born calves that needed feeding and their bedding straw replaced once a week. I would also help the dairyman to bring the herd in for milking and later I would do the milking myself. By fourteen I was driving tractors and working on other bits of farm equipment so that rather than building dens in the hayricks I was building the hayricks themselves. It was a great place to grow up but as I got into my teens things began to change. Once, my friends who lived in the town, Taunton in Somerset, couldn’t wait to come out to the village where I lived and we would have a great time running free in the countryside. Now we were teenagers and girls had come onto the scene they were having a great time in town and I felt a bit out on a limb in the county. Eventually I began to spend less time on the farm and more time in town with my mates. That’s growing up for you I suppose but my recollection of those earlier years and of a time when I had no responsibilities except for choosing what sweets to buy was all brought back to me by some soap that smelt like Hubba Bubba chewing gum. Memoires are funny that way aren’t they!
Anyway, after spending almost a week at Sines I left on Friday 11th September to make my way to Lagos, which I will tell you all about in my next blog.
Bye for now.
Signing off Ted
I took this photo of a statue as I was leaving Lisbon
The suspension bridge taken as I was leaving Lisbon
Close up of the statue by the suspension bridge
There were half a dozen cruise liners in Lisbon as I was leaving. This one had a giant screen showing a film at 7 am
The beach at Sines
The fishing port at Sines
The Marina a Sines
One of the streets at the top of the cliffs at Sines. The first place I had visited that really gave a sense of the real Portugal.