1st July 2017
The predominant north-westerly winds and south-going current along the coast of Portugal make for an easy passage (unless of course you are going north!), at least in theory. But the ports are often far apart, and useful anchorages rare until you get close to Lisbon. Also the winds are often quite strong in the afternoon, and sometimes strong for days at a time (other days may have too little wind). Consequently, on this part of the trip, we mostly had foresails set but the motor running in order to make the next port in good time. The weather was warming up and on a few sunny days we hid in the shade. Mostly there was some cloud cover and a fresh breeze which was a relief. In all the harbours a profusion of large fish swim about, and many are the small boats out to catch them. Plenty of pot-buoys too, some of which we were told are actually mooring lines for small fishing boats, marking good rocky spots offshore.
The whole coastline of Portugal is dominated by its geology, almost all high cliffs but of many different rock types. The edge of continental shelf is so near, and the native limestone and sedimentary rocks are interspersed with granites that have been pushed up along the edge. Full exposure to the Atlantic and prevailing NW wind have carved the rocks into fantastical shapes. It all makes for some breath-taking scenery. Offshore, we had many dolphin sightings, and the dominant avian life changed from the usual gulls to young gannets and to shearwaters, large graceful birds with dark grey plumage above and white below, quartering the waves in the manner of true ocean birds.
Eroded rock formations at Lagos
Our first stop was Viana do Castelo, the marina in the town below a huge domed church on the hill. The wind was getting up from the north, which led to a lively entrance up the river past the high-speed kamikaze wind surfers. We had fun mooring stern-to just inside the swing-bridge (there are lines set to an anchor which you have to pick up at the pontoon and secure to the bow). We took the funicular railway up to the church (Santa Lucia) and walked on up the hill, seeking some ancient ruins we had read about. We found a modern building by the road well back from the church – almost no signposting – and asked inside, whereupon we were charged €2 each to walk around the ruins – which are amazing. The hill was occupied from iron-age to roman times and comprises several walled areas with round and rectangular buildings – often with a curious diagonally laid stonework. J was less keen on the raised walkways with lattice floors however! Nigel from Lady in Red was also in port, so came aboard for a late drink or two.
Iron age and roman ruins above Viana do Castello
Next morning we were off before the bridge closed at 9am, and motored on to Poava de Varzim, which had been recommended as a cheap friendly marina with easy metro access to Porto. Along with Lady in Red, we stayed here three nights as there were quite strong SW winds. There was time to do some deck painting and catch up with the laundry etc, plus an afternoon trip to Porto, which was beautiful and still hot well into the evening. Looking for toilets, we wandered into the Sao Bento station to find ourselves facing huge frescos showing historic scenes – famous apparently and definitely outclassing the loos. On our first evening here we took the metro just a few stops to Villa de Conde, which has good views over the attractive river estuary, and an extensive (7 km) aqueduct built some 400 years ago to provide water to a convent!
The 45 miles to Figuera da Foz were accomplished by the engine in light wind most of the way. We checked in at the arrivals quay (they like to see passports and ship registration in most Portugese ports, and especially here), but then made a mess of getting into our allotted berth – but no damage done. There was time in the morning to visit the excellent fish and produce market, before setting off again, destination the Ilha Berlenga. The swell was quite large and there was a light rain as we headed in before dark, but all was calm near to the island.
Some of the scant guidance available said there were buoys available SE of Berlenga, so we picked one on arrival in the evening, and no-one seemed to object. We had a quiet night, then rowed ashore to the deep cove and harbour. At about 9:30 all hell broke loose as ferry boats raced over from Peniche (some 9km away), competing for space in the harbour. Smaller boats took parties off to do diving, fishing, racing through cave arches, or trips to the old monastery (on a rock nearby). We asked around and were told we could stay on the mooring (no charge) but later were asked to move to another buoy, which we did. There was time for R to walk over the top of the island (mostly gull nesting colony), and for a trip to the monastery in our own dinghy. This is a great island to visit.
Our dinghy anchored at the monastery on Berlinga
After only a morning at Berlinga (wish we could have stayed longer), the weather drove us on to Cascais, some 40 miles south and situated on the approaches to Lisbon. Here is a protected bay (when the wind is in the north) and harbour, where we anchored for a couple of blowy nights. We were entertained by some moth-like dinghies which sail with only the tips of the keel and rudder in the water, and our first sighting of a lateen rig sailing by. Cascais is a popular and attractive seaside town at the end of the Lisbon metro, featuring the usual profusion of restaurants, tourist shops and all-night disco. There is a fine park (featuring a variety of free-range chickens and other fowl), and we had a walk along the rugged limestone of the south-facing shore.
The winds still forecast to be strong from the north for several days, and there are some good reports on the CA Captains Mate app for Seixal, a little place on a creek to the south of Lisbon. Actually, there seem to be several places on the map called Seixal – this is the one near Ponto dos Corvos– a popular sandy spit opposite the town. So we took the flood tide up the Tagus, under the suspension bridge, along the extensive city sea-front. There are big catamaran ferries going to Seixal, and a buoyed channel to follow. Inside the creek the channel is quite narrow and full of moorings, so we had a job to find an anchorage. The spot we chose proved to have a sunken buoy right by us, and though our first night was comfortable, the next was problematic with a moored boat getting rather close. The subsequent two nights we got a space on the town quay pontoon (€15/night) next to some traditional sailing barges. Every low tide, the local fishermen would come out with floats and baskets and sieve through the gravel, looking for scallops. Three cheery men came out each evening with lights and chatted as they searched.
We took the ferry to Lisbon and a train to Belem to visit the maritime museum, which features a huge collection of model ships and traditional boats. The impressive feats of early Portuguese discovery (Vasco de Gama et al) are related. Well worth the visit.
Back at Seixal we had fun sailing the dinghy around the extensive (and broad at high water) creek, visiting the sand spit for a swim, and exploring the ruins of tide mills along the shore. We would certainly return here if cruising in the Lisbon area.
On the town quay at Seixal
Our next port of call was Sines, some 50 miles south. This is described as a pleasant fishing village in the almanac, which fails to mention the massive oil and container terminals which surround it. As we arrived round the mole, two tugs manoeuvred a big tanker into the harbour. But we had a good anchorage between the marina and fishing harbour. After breakfast we moved on south, another long hop to finally round Cape St Vincent and arrive at the South coast of Portugal, the Algarve.
It was a quiet day and we motored south with headsails set, taking in the genoa later as the NW wind faded. There was a good deal of swell, though, and this increased as we approached the cape, and the wind began to build again. The ride past St Vincent was great, with manageable surfing swells and a following wind, and fantastic scenery with the sun on the contorted rock formations of the headland. But instead of the expected shelter as we turned east round the cape, the Nortada wind was building rapidly, and soon grew to 30 knots blowing down off the high land. The light was fading too, and the first two bays where we sought an anchorage, proved untenable in these conditions. We had to work our way round a fish farm to a broader bay, and finally anchored off the beach as the wind dropped gradually, though the anchor rope snubbers gave us a noisy night!
In the morning all was calm. We continued east along this coast of layered and contorted cliffs, round a headland where the sea has eroded caves, fantastical stacks and hidden beaches, to Lagos (see earlier picture). Hidden that is, except for the dozens of tourist boats and ribs, some with rave parties in full swing on board, all tearing about the bay and surrounding rocks. We entered the Lagos canal as far as the fuel pontoon, topped up the tank, and went back to the bay to anchor. In spite of the mayhem about us and sweltering heat, we spent a relaxing afternoon and had a swim around the boat. We intended to row ashore in the cool of the evening, but up came the Nortada so this was too risky. So shopping was postponed until Sunday morning, which was calm. All being well, the weather looks OK for the voyage to Porto Santo, Madeira over the next few days…