38 45.1793N 009 5.3726W

Tue 11 Aug 2015 15:29

Date:                Tuesday 11th August 2015


Position:          Moored in the Marina Parque das Nações, Lisbon


When you are sailing alone the days just seem to meld into one another and you loose all track of time.  I brought my first newspaper yesterday and this was the first time since leaving the UK that I have caught up with what has been going on in the world.  Still the same old crap happening everywhere so I haven’t missed much!  I arrived at Povoa de Varzim a week ago on Friday 24th July.  I had intended to move on to Lisbon on Wednesday but looking at the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday very light winds were predicted which would have meant motoring the whole 200 miles.  Now, I’m no stalwart sailor and I am happy to turn the engine on if needed.   But on the other hand, leaving with the intention of motoring all the way to Lisbon was not the most pleasant of passages to look forward to.  Beside which, it would take the best part of a tank of diesel to get there and at around £200 a time to fill it that’s an expense I could do without.  So I decided to wait for a more favourable weather window, which as it turns out is tomorrow Saturday 1st August.   There was also another bonus to staying here for a few more days which is that the mooring fees are virtually half of what I will be paying in Lisbon, 15€ a night as compared with 28€ a night. 


The marina is adequate but a little bit strange if I can put it like that.  It is almost like a city Counsellor turned up at a planning meeting one day and said, “look lads, I’ve got this fantastic idea to regenerate the City.  Why don’t we build ourselves a state of the art marina”?   Of course he would have said it in Portuguese not English.  So they set to and built the City what should have been a state of the art marina.  All the necessary infrastructure was put in, a reception building, a huge ablutions block, laundry, chandlers and a series other out buildings for various uses.  They even have a state of the art access system for gaining entrance to the marina.  Rather that issuing you a code number or card for the gate, it is done by your fingerprint.  When you first arrive you are asked to select which finger you would like to use then you place it against a reader, which scans your fingerprint into the system.  Then all you do each time you want to get back in to the marina is to place your finger on the reader at the gate and it opens.  All this technology makes me very nervous though because we just forget the amount of information we give away about ourselves without really thinking.  Mobile phones are a classic example.  If a Portuguese police office had stopped me in the street and asked for my fingerprint I would have been outraged, quoting abuse of my human rights or some such.  But here I am giving my fingerprint away quite freely to a company, about which I know nothing.    


 Just outside the marina there is a large road which has street lighting, not lit, and an area that looks like it had been set aside for building holiday flats or some such.  It never ceases to amaze me how some people will buy a 40-foot boat that would take them around the world and yet will still buy a holiday home to go with it rather than live on the boat.  Go figure!  Anyway, the site has now become a derelict wasteland used as a parking lot by coaches and as a stopover for RVs of which there are dozens and dozens each day.  There are no facilities provided for them but on the other hand they don’t pay anything to stay there which is why they arrive in such numbers I expect.


The whole place seems to have been well planned and thought out and it should have been a great success.   But the reality is that it has just not taken off.  Some parts remain unfinished, whilst other areas looks like a kind of elephants’ graveyard for boats with derelicts littering the place and the whole marina has a feel of dowdiness about it.  But, having been here for a while now I can see how this is probably a hidden gem along this coat line.  First and foremost it is cheap, which is why there are a lot of yachts from all different countries laid up ashore being refitted either before or after an Atlantic circuit.  Connections are very good too.  The metro is only 10 minutes walk from the marina and you can be in the centre of Oporto in 50 minutes at a cost of 9€ for a day ticket.  There is also a local airport that the budget airlines operate from which is also only a few stops away on the metro.  So if you are looking for a twee marina with all the bells and whistles for a few days of luxury, this is not the place for you.  But if you are looking for a cheap place to lay-up for a while and do some work on your boat, you probably won’t find a better place than Povoa de Varzim. 


The city itself is very much a tourist area with a long beach, miles long I would say, on one side and the marina about half a mile out of the city on the other.  There are beaches this side too but the coast is a little rockier and more dangerous it seems.   Facilities are rather sparse although you can get all you need by looking around.  They consist mostly of small local shops such as butchers, bakers, grocers and general stores dotted about here and there in the back streets.  There is one supermarket in the city although it is more like a local store rather than a large supermarket and there is the central produce market selling fruit, veg, fish and meat at very good value.  The other day I brought a lovely piece of rump steak that in the UK would have cost a good £7 for 3.50€.  It is not a big city by any means.  The main shopping centre consists of just a couple of streets if you don’t count the “kiss me quick” shops on the seafront. 


Once the tourist season is over I expect the whole place is pretty dead.  But during the summer there is obviously plenty going on.  I seem to have the knack of turning up at places when there is something going on.  Once I arrived in Guernsey when the “Festival of the Sea” was on.  In Alderney I arrived when the town was having its annual celebrations.  There were events on throughout the day and in the evening a big party on top of the hill.  Then once in Gosport I arrived during a rock festival, that was a pretty good night.  So I was quite happy to find that I had arrived in Povoa de Varzim during the City festival weekend.  The festivities were located in front of the casino in a small area on the seafront.  The best way I can describe the area is that it is a little like the seafront at Brighton that back in the sixties the bikers used for drag racing.  A long straight lined by arches on one side and the sea the other.  I think, although I might be wrong, that the London to Brighton vintage car rally finishes there.  This place was similar a long straight road lined with fishermen’s’ lockups at the end of which had been set-up a stage and marquee.  Various acts, performances took place throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I went along on the Saturday evening to soak up the atmosphere and have a beer.  A chap got on stage and did a bit of Karaoke and a band that, despite the age of their lead singer, were not that bad followed him. While these acts were on I noticed a few girls dressed in costumes were beginning to gather and assumed they were some kind of dance troop.  My assumption was proved correct when about twenty or so girls of all ages got on the stage to perform their dance routines watched over by their doting mothers and grandmothers.  It was Saturday night and it felt like I was watching an episode of “Portugal’s got Talent” on the stage.  Once they had finished their series of routines the band came back on stage.  There is only so much music you can take in a foreign language so on the basis of not overdoing a good thing I left and returned to the boat. 


There was also a large casino by the fishing harbour.  I went in one evening just to see what it was like and get the feel of the place.  It was very glitzy as one might expect.  The ground floor was a huge area filled just with slot machines, hundreds and hundreds of slot machines, all flashing away with their coloured lights attracting the attention of the suckers that sit in front of them constantly feed the things money.  I say suckers because that is exactly what they are.  But then I’ve never really been much of a gambler I learnt that the hard way in the army.  When I joined as an apprentice chef at the age of sixteen, a young boy from out in the sticks, the first thing the senior apprentices did was to get you involved in card games.  As an apprentice you were not paid your full wages each month thank god. The majority was held in reserve for you as credits and only paid in full when you went on leave so you had money to go home with.  Instead you could opt to draw up to a maximum of £5 each week, which for a sixteen year old was more than enough for most of your needs seeing how your food and accommodation was already taken care of.  We were paid on a Friday and by Monday morning most of the new intake would be skint, reduced to scrounging cigarettes and cups of tea off mates, whilst the older apprentices would be counting their winnings and telling tales of how they fleece us young’uns at three-card brag.  It doesn’t take many weeks of being skint all the time before you finally wake up to the fact that gambling is a suckers’ game and whilst very occasionally you might come out on top, most times you don’t and are lucky if you barely come out even.   That is why I never understand people who can sit in front a machine and feed pound after pound into it.  I mean if you were to take the time and look around you, you would see that the whole place has been designed with one thing in mind, to take your money.  Just thinking about the sheer cost of such an operation should tell you that someone is loosing money big time and that someone is going to be you.  One thing I did notice is the people were smoking in the casino and I thought to myself what a great ploy, allow the suckers to indulge in an addiction that is banned in most places so as to make them feel more comfortable whilst you get them hooked on another addiction.  On the fist floor were the gaming tables, roulette, poker, dice etc., but surprisingly most of the table were closed but then it was a weeknight so business might have been slow.  Anyway, I soaked up the atmosphere for about fifteen minutes and left not having put a penny, or should I say cent, in any of the machines.  As an aside, a few days later, I was in Figueira da Foz, which I will come onto later, and as I walked through the town I came across the casino with a queue of suckers all lined up outside waiting for the doors to open so they could go in and get their fix.  Some people never learn!      


On Tuesday I decided to take the Metro into Oporto.  This was a trip I had been looking forward to for some time because I have always wanted to visit some of the old port houses there.  Oporto is located on the river Douro but unusually it is not a place recommended for visiting yachts.  There are no marinas as such and moorings along the river front are very limited, mostly reserved for local businesses, so yachts are not that welcome.   That said, when I saw the river flowing for myself with the strong current and unpredictable eddies I decided that I had made the right decision to moor elsewhere and take the Metro in.  It would not have been a good place to moor a small yacht.  The City is divided in two by the river Douro.  On the north side is the City itself, a culturally diverse area with plenty to do and look at, a good long weekends worth.  The south side of the river is where the Port business started and grew into the huge industry it is today.  It is home to the many port houses that produce port and has also become a bit of a tourist attraction.   As I sat on the north side of the river on the balcony of a bar just under the Ponte Luís I bridge, I looked over to the south side and could see all those names that had become so familiar to me over the years of looking after the wine cellars of a company in London.  As I looked at the names Taylors, Dows, Grahams, Quinta do Noval and so on, I realised I was in my Mecca made even better because in the background the bar was playing Pink Floyd on the sound system.  Really, does life get any better than this?  I finished my beer and decided I would have a trip around Taylors.  I booked the 3.30 pm English tour and with an hour to spare I had a little wander around the area to soak up the atmosphere.  It was only a little wander as well because all the port houses where built on a bloody great hill.  During my time as custodian of the cellar in London I mentioned I learned a great deal about wines in general and port specifically because a large part of the cellar I looked after was port.  But to actually be in the place where it is produced was just fantastic.  The vineyards and the wine production itself takes place much further up the Douro Valley about a hundred miles or so.  Once the wine has been made it is transported down to the port houses in Oporto to be matured and made into one of the types of port we know, Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage (sometimes known as Ruby), or Tawny.  There is also a white port produced, which is not very popular in the UK but is drunk as an aperitif on the continent.   Of the first three I mentioned they are each treated differently which gives them their individual characteristics.  For example, LBV is matured for about six to seven yeas in large barrels and I do mean large barrels, because it is important to preserve the colour, ruby red, and for the wine not to take on much flavour from the barrels.  Therefore you want as little of the wine to be in contact with the barrel as possible.  In fact, Taylors has one of the largest maturing barrels in the world holding 100,000 litres of wine or just a good weekends worth, as Bobby would say.  On the other hand with Tawny port the intention is to change the colour and flavour slightly so wine destined to become a Tawny port is matured in much smaller barrels so more of the wine is in contact with the wood taking on the characteristic of the wood itself.  A vintage port is different again and vintages do not occur every year.  A very specific set of circumstances during the growing of the grapes must come together to produce a wine of such quality that in the eyes of the producer makes it unique and can be “Declared” a vintage.  In this case the wine bottled soon after it is made so the maturing process takes place in the bottle rather than in a barrel.  Vintage ports will last for decades in the bottle if stored under the right conditions and are a delight to drink. 


In fact the cost of the tour included three tastings a chilled white port, a LBV and of course a Tawny.  Now if I asked you how much I paid for the tour and three tastings what would you say, £10 would be value for money wouldn’t it?  I suppose you could even go to £15 and still say it was a reasonable deal.  Heck if such tours were available in London they would cost a lot more than that.  No, I paid 5€ about £3.50, incredible or what!  But after the tour I did indulge a little, am afraid I just couldn’t help myself.  There was on offer a tasting of a Taylors Single Harvest 1964, not exactly a Vintage as such but still a very good wine so I just had to have a glass didn’t I.  Sorry, what was that, how much did it cost!  Well it was very much cheaper that the 165 year old Single Harvest on offer at 100€ a glass.  I did manage to resist that although there was a moment, albeit brief, when I waivered slightly.


A funny thing happened to me on the way home form the forum!  Always a good start to any anecdote don’t you think, although in this case it was on the way home from the Metro station.  I wasn’t sure if I should put this in my blog but I set out to give a true account of my adventures good or bad so here goes.  Before I tell what happened I would like to tell another story just to illustrate how sometime you can be so absorbed in your own little world that you just miss the tell-tell signs of the situation before you, however street smart you think you are.  Ann and I were invited to dinner one evening at a private club called Blacks.  Now, this was at a time in my life when my work was becoming all consuming and at times pretty stressful and my mind was usually concentrating on some work related matter. Ann was busy during the afternoon so she agreed to meet me there at 7.30 pm along with our other friends.  I had never been to Blacks before and it was in an area of London that I didn’t know very well so being a good little soldier I arrived early to recce the place so I knew where it was.  That done I had about three quarters of an hour to kill before meeting everyone so I thought I would go and have a pint.   I looked around but every pub I saw was packed full with people queuing at the bar to get a drink it would take ages to get served.  After a while I found a small pub that looked empty and seized on my chance without a moments hesitation.  I walked in and went straight up to the bar and ordered a pint not really taking note of my surroundings.  I had just taken hold of the glass and was raising it up to my lips when this man sidled up beside me and said “Hello ducks, haven’t seen you in here before”.  My hand froze in mid air with the glass just in front of my lips and with my head kept perfectly still my eyes looked around the room and saw that there were only men in the pub and some of them were dressed pretty strangely at that.  It suddenly dawned on me that I had missed all the obvious signs and had inadvertently strayed into a gay bar.  Now, I have nothing against gay men at all but it just isn’t my scene so not wishing to be rude I took one long sip of beer and replied “No mate, this is my first time here and probably my last if you get my drift”.  He sidled off to some corner and I quickly finished my pint and left.  Well you didn’t think I was going to leave a pint behind did you!


So, back to the original story.  I had just arrived back from Oporto and was walking back to the boat from the Metro station.  I had had a lovely day in Oporto, imbibed of a few ports, well while in Rome etc., and was reflecting on how good life was when I was stopped in the street by this old lady.   She was jabbering away in Portuguese so I had no idea what she was saying but by the way she was rubbing her thumb and forefinger together I knew it had to do with the exchange of money somewhere along the line for some goods or services yet to be agreed.  At first I thought she was just begging but then she started gesturing with her hand and it looked as though she was trying to sell me a toothbrush?  She was obviously getting frustrated that the message wasn’t getting through to me so in one last final bit to make herself understood she suddenly grabbed my crouch with one had while pointing at her mouth with the other.  The penny finally dropped and I understood the service she was offering.  There was a moment of complete silence between as we both looked at each other.  Me, thinking how the hell could I have missed a situation that was so blatantly obvious, and her, I expect, in the hope of walking away from the encounter with some cash in her hand.  The silence was finally broken when I burst out laughing.  Not a little “titter”, as Frankie Howard would say, but a good old belly laugh I just couldn’t believe I had not seen this coming.  She soon got the message that I had declined her kind offer and quickly walked away up the road and disappeared around a corner.   I turned and walked in the opposite direction chuckling to myself all the way back to the boat.


Having spent nine day at Povoa de Varzim it was time to move on and I left on Saturday 1st August with the intention of doing the 200 miles to Lisbon in one go.  I had done the Bay of Biscay which was 300 miles so this should have be relatively easy in comparison but there was a big difference between the two passages.  With the Biscay passage within half a day I was well of shore out of the inshore fisheries zone which meant much less traffic around.  It also meant I was well away from pot markers that are a nightmare for yachtsmen.  These are the floating markers that lobster/crab fishermen use to mark their pots and are usually found up to twelve miles off shore.  Get one of these wrapped around your prop shaft and you have a serious problem.  It happened to me once on the way to Weymouth a few seasons ago and I had a deal of a time cutting the prop free.  But on the passage to Lisbon I would be well within the twelve-mile limit so small fishing boats and pot markers would be a real problem and so it proved to be. It was a mixture of sailing when I could and motoring when the wind died which it did quite often.  By morning I was feeling pretty tired because of concentrating on dodging all the fishing boats and pot markers so I started to revise my plan.  Did I really have to get to Lisbon in one go?  Why not stop at one of the other ports along the way for a couple of days after all I still had time in hand.  I was not concerned about the fuel consumption because I knew I had plenty of diesel and more in reserve if needed. But there was one problem that did concern me which was the starter motor.  I had known about the problem for some time and should have fixed it sooner but it was one of those items that had managed to slip through the net.  Occasionally I would go to turn the engine on and nothing would happen, not a sausage.  Basically, one of the leads attached to the starter motor was worn but by playing with it a little I could usually get the engine started and then it would be OK for a while.  The trouble was that now the problem was becoming more frequent.   On this passage I had had to play with the lead each time I wanted to start the engine, not a good situation if I suddenly needed to start it in an emergency.  It was obvious that a repair was urgent so that made my mind up, I would make for Figueira da Foz and spend a couple of nights there and fix the problem.   


Figueira da Foz turned out to be quite a nice place and it was a pity that I only spent a couple of days there.  The pilot book said that it was an expensive marina to stay at and when I arrived and enquired about the cost I was quoted 56€ which I took as per night but I didn’t realise the attendant in the marina office had quoted me the price for two nights because that is how long I said I would be staying.  So £28€ a night was not that bad after all.   The town is also another big holiday destination.  To the left of the marina was the beach area with all the usual accompanying businesses and to the right was the old town.  One of the best features was the public market which was just across the road from the marina selling fruit, veg, meat and fish all great quality.  The day I arrived, Sunday the market was closed but I had enough provisions aboard so it didn’t matter.  After a couple of hour’s kip I went for a walk around the town.  There where a couple of cars with loud speakers that kept circulating around the town advertising some event.  All soon became clear when I stumbled upon the local Bull Ring outside of which stalls selling fast food and other trinkets were beginning to set up.  It was obvious that today was Bull Fighting Day in Figueira da Foz.  Now, I have been to a Bull Fight once before in Madrid because I was curious and I think you should always try to experience new things at least once in you life.  I have no really strong views on the matter of bull fighting as I don’t know enough about it to make an informed opinion.  But from that one fight I did go to I knew that once was enough for me so I decided not to go in and went back to the boat. 


The next day I set to and started to repair the starter motor.  Basically all I needed to do was to undo one nut on the solenoid, splice in a new wire and reattach it to the solenoid easy right.  No, the nut had probably never been touched since it was installed and was stuck fast.  The solenoid had also been painted the same colour as the engine so I assumed that it was all made of metal.  What have I said about assumption in the past?  However, the part of the solenoid that the nut was attached to turned out to be plastic, which over the years had become brittle.  So in my usual ham fisted way I managed to break it trying to get the nut undone.  Great, now I needed a new solenoid for a starter motor that was 36 years old where the hell was I going to get one here.  I certainly wasn’t going to get the problem fixed that day I thought and started to panic a little because I needed to be in Lisbon by Sunday morning at the very latest.  I have a contact in the UK who specializes in my type of engine and I get all my spares from him so I knew I could get hold of a solenoid but it would take time and money to get one here and time was limited.  My decision to stop over in Figueira da Foz was now not looking so cleaver after all.  When I had walked around the town the day before I had noticed an engineers shop just outside the marina so I went to see it they could help.  The young owner or manager spoke perfect English, even on technical matters, which was really helpful.  I explained the situation to him and he understood completely.  In fact on the floor right in front of his desk was a brand new starter motor with the solenoid sitting on top.  Unfortunately, it was the wrong type and was of no use to me.  He explained that he could not help me because firstly he didn’t have the correct part and secondly he was busy for the next couple of days.   But he did give me the details of a garage that had some specialist engineers and if I took the starter motor there they might be able to help me.  I removed the starter motor from the engine, a surprisingly simple task, and wrapped it up ready to take to the garage.  It was now 12.30 pm and the garage would not be open until 2.30 pm so it was looking less and less likely that the problem would be resolved that day.  I was waiting outside the garage at 2.30 pm when it opened up for the afternoon trade.  I explained the problem to the first chap there who, as it turned out specialized in repairing starter motors.  This time however, he did not understand a word of English and of course I don’t speak a word of Portuguese.  We Brits are so lazy when it comes to learning other languages.  Anyway, he disappeared for a few moments and returned clutching a box in his hand.  He placed it on the counter in front of me opened it and took out a brand new replacement solenoid exactly like mine.  That was the up side but on the down side he kept pointing to another part of the starter motor indicating that there was an additional problem.  I didn’t know what he was talking about but just then the young chap from the marina I had spoken to earlier walked into the garage just by chance. He very kindly offered to interpret for us and soon the problem was clear.  It seems that at the at the end of the spindle which the cog from the starter motor is thrown forward on when it engages the flywheel on the main engine, there should have been a ring attached that stops the cog from flying too far forward.  It was this that was missing but the good news was it could easily be fixed.  Over 36 year of wear and tear it must have broken up and is now laying somewhere at the bottom of the engine.  The engineer said if I were to return a 5 pm the job would be done and when I returned it was.  I gave the engineer a drink, paid the bill and returned to the boat to finish the job.  By 7 pm the starter motor was reinstalled, new wiring fitted and now the engine starts first time every time.  So what seemed to be a disastrous delay at first turned out to be quite a simple job.  Its nice when things just fall into place like that.  As a mark of appreciation, I drop a bottle of wine off to the first engineer who had put me onto the garage in the first place.   He looked a little surprised at first but when I explained that without his help I would probably have been running around Figueira da Foz for days trying to get the problem fix he gladly accepted my token.


The next day I set sail for Lisbon another 24-hour passage.  The weather was good and I had between 12 and 15 knots of wind on the beam for most of the day, which made for good sailing. Over night the wind steadily dropped until I had to put the engine on at around 5 am.  By then the sea was like a mirror without a breath of wind to beak the surface.  As dawn began to break I was just off the point at Cascais about to enter the river Tagus and make my way to Lisbon and the marina I had booked into both about eleven miles upriver.  Unfortunately, I had arrived about two hours into the ebb tide, not good planning.  Eleven miles might not seem a great deal but with a two or three knots of tide running against me progress was painfully slow.  It took a further four hours to reach the Marina Parque das Nações and that is where I am now, laid up in Lisbon until the end of the month.   I have to return to the UK for a family wedding and by the time you read this I will be at home.  I will write more about Lisbon on my return once I have had the opportunity to explore the city a little more.  But for now I will sign off and wish you all fair winds.     


Bye for now.


Signing off Ted

City of Oporto looking at the north side

Bloody accordionist are everywhere

LBV maturing in the large barrels

The 100,000 litre barrel at Taylors 

Note the smaller barrels for the Tawny port.

The road just outside the marina at Povoa de Varzim.  Note the RV’s.  There were even more the next day.