Mon 6 Jul 2009 23:00
07 July 2009
Alcoutim, Portugal
N37˚28’.23 W07˚28’.23

This week we have been tied up in a small Portuguese town called Alcoutim,
about 20 miles from the sea on the Guadiana river, which separates Spain
from Portugal. We are right at the eastern edge of the Algarve. Across the
river from us, only 150 metres away, is the Spanish town of Sanlucar. Both
towns are built on the steep river banks and each has a church that chimes
each passing hour. The Spanish side is an hour ahead and their bells chime
first, followed by the Portuguese bells about 30 seconds later, which ring
one chime less. To an outsider, the towns look very similar: whitewashed
houses, narrow cobbled streets, and a church. On the hill behind each town
is a fort, a reminder of the fierce enmity that existed between the two
sides in past centuries. I suspect that some friendly contempt may survive
to this day and I’d like to find an English speaking local to ask about
this before we go. I have tried to learn a few Portuguese words, but the
pronunciation is quite strange and Portuguese could easily be mistaken for
a central European language.
To get to Alcoutim, we motored up the Rio Guadiana, passing under a
suspension bridge, the height of which varies, depending on which source
you consult. The mast on Volare is about 60 feet tall and the thought of
clanging into the bridge or getting wedged underneath it with a rising
tide was too horrible to contemplate, so we passed under it exactly at low
water (I did my tidal calculations twice!). I will never get used to
something being over the top of the mast. The river itself winds along
through the dry countryside and is tidal certainly all the way to
Alcoutim, where the current reverses every six hours and is quite strong.
Volare weighs in at about 17 tons and we have double-springed her to the
pontoon. The cost of a night alongside here is only €7.50, which is great
value. There are showers nearby, the place is wonderfully peaceful and
secure, and the view of the river is gorgeous.
There are several other yachts either anchored in the Guadiana or like us,
tied up to one of the pontoons. Several red ensigns can be seen fluttering
in the breeze, but there are many other nationalities here as well.
Everybody is friendly and helpful and language difficulties are overcome
by improvising with a bit of Franglais or Spanglish, or by gesturing.
There is a lot of common ground between the crews: the weather, parts of
the boat, sailing experience. But the biggest common ground is the sea
itself. Whether you are a millionaire in a gleaming yacht, or in command
of a 26 footer, you’re really only a tiny speck on the ocean and every
sailor respects its power. Maybe this has a humbling effect and explains
why yachtsmen are so open, generous and friendly towards one another. I
like it a lot!