Portimao to Albufeira


We decided to move the short, 17 mile hop down the coast to Albufeira. Jan had to take a train back to Lisbon and the Faro to Lisbon train ran close to Albufeira, so it was a convenient place to spend a few days until Jan’s departure. We left Portimão in beautiful sunny weather and managed to do a bit of sailing before the wind dropped and we were back to the engine again. The entrance to Albureira Marina is through a narrow cut and the swell was quite large even inside the harbour and, as we arrived at reception, the pontoon was moving around quite alarmingly.

Having completed the formalities we made our way to our berth, moored next to a live aboard boat with a young Portuguese mum with 2 young children on board. In side the marina we were protected from the swell and while Jac and I tidied Synergy away, Jan went for an explore and reported plenty of facilities. It seemed quite a lively place with some very listenable-to music coming from one of the bars. All was quiet by 10pm we had a great night’s sleep.

30th August 2015             Albufeira

We had 2 days to kill before Jan took the train to Lisbon, so we decided to go and explore Albufeira town which was a couple of miles from the marina. We grabbed a taxi to avoid a walk in the heat, armed with sandwiches that Jac had prepared that morning. The town proved to be just as ghastly as I remembered from a visit in 2003! Albufeira must once have been a pretty little Portuguese fishing village and a delight for early tourists. Sadly, the appeal that brought the first tourists there led to overexploitation, as in so many Southern European resorts. All that is left is a vestige of its former charm and all the tourist bars, cafes and other places of entertainment that can be found all around southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Very sad! I wouldn’t recommend it.

After a drink at an “English Pub” we made our way back to the marina and found a bar with a very talented English guitarist, playing some great music. On the way back to the boat we found “Sharkey’s Bar” run by Lynn, a very bubbly and outgoing Asian lady who made us very welcome. The short stop for a nightcap turned into a longer session when we got talking to a couple, Lesley and Dai Douglas who were Portuguese residents. Dai had been an air electronics operator in the RAF and it transpired that we had some mutual acquaintances. The short stop became a long one and Jac and I escorted a giggling Jan back to Synergy to make sure that she didn’t fall in the water. A great night!

31st August 2015             Albufeira

The engine needed a service after all the running that we had been obliged to do thus far but we needed oil. Jac and I walked round to the chandlers where they had gallons of the stuff. We had spare filters and drive belts on the boat so I started on the engine service while Jac and Jan went to the beach. Servicing the engine isn’t complicated but one needs some space as the companionway steps need to be removed for ease of access to the engine making the inside of the boat inaccessible from the cockpit. Having completed the service and allowed the girls back on board, we lounged around for the afternoon before retiring to a restaurant for a last supper with Jan who was leaving us in the morning.

Sines to Portimao

Just after dawn leaving Sines

We slipped the mooring at Sines still in darkness at 0615 and set off on the 80 mile run to Portimão. We would have preferred a more leisurely trip with a stop on the way, but there is nowhere suitable to stop or even anchor between Sines and the Algarve. The run was again uneventful and it seemed that the weather had finally settled, as we had hardly seen a cloud since leaving Lisbon. There were plenty of fishing buoys around Cape St Vincent which kept us alert weaving around them. The Cape was a serious landmark on our trip as it marked the transition from the Portuguese Atlantic Coast to the Algarve. It was also the scene of a major sea battle during the Napoleonic Wars in 1797 when Admiral John Jervis, 1st Earl St Vincent, in his flagship HMS Victory, defeated a superior Spanish Fleet. He was accompanied by a chap called Horatio Nelson who was one of his ships captains.

Rounding Cape St Vincent the wind increased as forecast accelerating our progress to Portimão which we reached at 1830, 12 1/2 hours after leaving Sines. The marina turned out to be a large modern affair just up the River Arade. It had an undeserved reputation for being a noisy place but, taking no chances, we asked to be berthed at the quiet end away from the night clubs.

 27th August 2015                    Portimão

Having reached the Algarve and, finally, some settled weather, the pressure was off and we could afford to meander as we only had around 200 miles left to run to Gibraltar. We took the tender across the river to Ferragudo, a small town directly opposite the marina. We visited a small market and Jan bought some fresh fish for dinner. We wanted to explore the town, but a couple of shady looking characters were taking an unhealthy interest in our tender and outboard motor, so I stayed close to the boat while Jac and Jan went for  little explore. On their return, the girls reported that the town was worth another visit so rather than risk having the tender pinched, we motored back to the marina and took a water taxi back to Ferragudo. Near the water taxi station was moored a large sleek, silver motor cruiser that Jan decided she would buy when she won the lottery. Ferragudo is a very pretty town with lots of winding back streets. The exercise and heat required several stops for refreshment but eventually we made or way to the church, perched on a hill with lovely views over the river.

Strangely, there was a tiled mural of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout Organisation, just outside the church. We didn’t discover why he should be so honoured in a small Portuguese town. After a good explore, we made our way back to Synergy via the last water taxi of the day.

28th August 2015                     Portimão

Today was Jac’s 26th birthday! She decided she would like to visit Carvoeiro, a small touristy seaside town just along the coast where her aunt had lived. We took a taxi to the town and decided to visit Smiler’s Bar in the centre, run by Geraldine, an old friend of Jacquie’s aunt who was very welcoming. After a light lunch we took the bus back to Portimão, which was quite a walk from the marina in the heat, so we were obliged to stop for more refreshment on the way. In the evening Jac, Jan and I went to a marina side restaurant for  celebratory meal. Jan organised some deserts with candles on for Jac and the waiter, diplomatically and unbidden transposed the six and the two!    After dinner we wandered into a beach club to finish with margaritas. Jac managed to pour some of the contents down her new blue dress, purchased only that morning in Carvoeiro. And so to bed!

Sesimbra to Sines

We were now intent on getting around Cape St Vincent on the southwest tip of Portugal while the weather was still good and that meant one more stop at Sines before the long run around the Cape to the Algarve. With no regrets we left the berth at Sesimbra and in lovely weather with almost no swell, but also no wind, we motored the 37 miles to Sines. Sines is a busy commercial port with the fishing port and yacht marina inside. The guide book said that once inside the marina the commercial aspect of the port was almost invisible and this proved to be the case.  We had to wait on the reception pontoon until lunch finished and then the helpful staff allocated us a berth. Everyone at Sines was very welcoming and helpful. Having settled the boat for the evening we took a trip into town for essential provisions and then headed to a nearby restaurant for an evening meal. We thought the staff were lovely as, unbidden, they brought us all sorts of titbits while we were waiting for our main meal. That is until we received the bill where we found that they had added 17 Euros for starters! Walking back past the castelo to the boat through a very picturesque town, we had a paddle on the beach before turning in early in preparation for a long day’s run to the Algarve.

Lisbon to Sesimbra

Now a crew of 4: Chris, Jac, Jan and Robert (see 22nd August) we set off southwards once again. The rough plan was to make our way down to the Algarve and then linger there for while until we had to say goodbye to Jan on her way back to the UK. Unusually the sun was out  and we had a comfortable sail and motor sail in an easy force 4 wind. The trip was uneventful with the exception of a strange tinge to the sea which appeared almost red wine coloured at times, reminiscent of “The Wine Dark Sea” described in the Illiad. Sesimbra was one of the most expensive marinas at which we had stayed and didn’t seem to deliver value for money as the facilities there were pretty basic with no shops or restaurants in easy reach. Jan took a walk into town as the promised bus service didn’t seem to exist and we finished the day with a meal on the boat.


Cascais to Lisbon

This was just a short hop. We awoke to bright, sunny and warm weather for the gentle run up the river estuary to Lisbon. Once again we had to refuel and managed to leave the berth for the refuelling pontoon without hitting anything, including a police boat which was filling up with diesel. That really would have been embarrassing! In a flat calm we were able to take in the scenery and the spectacular Lisbon bridge which spans the River Tagus at Lisbon. Back in the days of the Avro Shackleton, an RAF crew operating in the Atlantic and experiencing major engine problems flew under that bridge, as they didn’t have sufficient power to climb over it. As a former pilot of those machines, I was in awe of the skill of the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Mike Bondesio who carried out this remarkable feat of aviation. Landing safely at Lisbon airport, Mike Bondesio was subsequently awarded the Air Force Cross. Tragically Mike, a South African, died of a heart attack in 1983 at the controls of a South African Air Force Shackleton.DSC_0246

Passing under the bridge, we were heading for the Doca Alcantâra, a converted commercial dock which now serves as one of the several marinas along the banks of the Tagus. Contrary to the information in the pilot book, the swing bridge barring the entrance to the marina only opened on the half hour, so we had to hover at the entrance for 15 minutes until it opened at 1400. We moored up on the other side of the pontoon from ONEGIN, the British boat that we had passed and talked to two days before, but there was no sign of the crew. It appeared that they had left the boat for the off season as we saw no one around for the next few days. Shortly after we arrived MULLI, the German boat from Perniche and Cascais moored up behind us. We ate that evening at a marina-side Asian restaurant, which was remarkable for the appalling quality of the waiting service. There seemed to be far more waiters than necessary, but most of them seemed to be aimlessly wandering around taking no interest in their patrons.

20th Aug 2015                     Lisbon

We were expecting a few days in Lisbon as my sister, Janet, was flying out from London to meet us and was not due to arrive until 23rd August, so we had some time to catch up with the routine jobs and to do some rubber-necking around Lisbon. We spent the morning re-stocking the boat and getting the laundry done. A minor disagreement with Jac led her to threaten to go home and take her Knot Book with her. The loss of such a vital reference tome could not be sustained so we patched up our differences and headed into Lisbon to find a chandlers, always a great source of entertainment for yachties. There were a couple of shops of interest and we purchased a small buoy and tripping line for the anchor and some new mid-cleat lines. From experience we had found that mooring the boat primarily using the amidships cleats produced the most efficient results but our current warps were a little short so we needed some more. Back to the boat with our purchases and worn out with miles of walking (my we were getting fit) we managed to find yet another awful restaurant serving the worst tagliatelle ever produced. Time for bed said Zebedee!

21st August 2015               Lisbon

The pilot book describes the Doca Alcantâra as a “quiet marina close to the centre of Lisbon.” The guy who wrote those notes must have cloth ears! The Lisbon, 25th April, Bridge is about half a mile away. The next marina along seems to be the centre of wild Lisbon night life and 100 yds away from Synergy on the riverside is a small container port. Furthermore, the marina is almost directly under the final approach to Lisbon airport. A combination of the constant drone of traffic, the clatter of containers being loaded and unloaded and the most awful racket from the night clubs until 2 am led to disturbed nights during our sojourn in Lisbon. (Is it me or is modern European rock music just a tuneless racket? Having grown up with Pink Floyd, The Stones and Led Zeppelin I just find it totally tuneless. My God! I’m starting to sound like my father in 1965!) Sleeping in was not an option as the airport opened around 6am, so we then had a stream of aircraft engines to ensure  we rose early.

We decided to do some sightseeing. Taking the obligatory hop-on hop-off bus around Lisbon, most of the tour was pretty unimpressive, passing through some pretty dreary and boring suburbs. We subsequently discovered that the tour missed the most interesting and picturesque part of the city. Having completed the full circuit on the bus, we found a street side café in the centre of Lisbon and grabbed some lunch: squid for Jac and fresh sardines for me which were much nicer than the canned variety. We then hopped on a free tourist tram which took us around the oldest and prettiest part of the city and we even found a new towel to replace the one that we lost overboard in Muros. Then down came the rain – what was wrong with the weather? Everyone we spoke to said that rain in Portugal in August was very unusual, but it seemed to be following us around. Soaked again, we grabbed a bus back to the marina for another night of noise. The only difference was that the “music” continued until 6am when the aircraft started arriving.

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22nd August 2015                 Lisbon

We decided to spend the day giving Synergy some TLC and cleaned her inside and out giving all the stainless steel a good polish as well. We needed to stock up with more food. Shopping expeditions on a boat tend to be frequent as the amount that we could buy in any one trip was limited by how much we could carry back to the boat. Unlike a trip to Sainsburys when you can chuck it all in the back of the car, we had to lug it all 3/4 of a mile from shop to boat. However, the exercise was definitely doing us some good. We found a convenient LIDL not too far away, which had the added benefit of a local cafe outside, frequented only by Portuguese. We combined lunch with the shopping trip and gained another member of the crew. This was a mint plant which Jac wanted to provide the necessary additives for Pimms and we promptly named him Robert. (Robert Plant – geddit?) Robert was destined to live on deck in port and in the toilet when we were at sea and he seemed quite comfortable with the arrangements.

23rd August 2015                 Lisbon

Today was the arrival day for my sister Jan. We spent the morning completing the cleaning and maintenance jobs until Jan arrived by train from the airport. She had planned to return to Lisbon from Faro on the Algarve and thence return to London on 1st September and we wanted to sort the arrangements and train tickets so that it wouldn’t be a scramble later. We eventually found the station where the ticket could be purchased, after which we wandered back through the old town, dining on swordfish steak on the way. Once again the rain came down and we abandoned plans to take the bus “home” and grabbed a taxi instead.

Peniche to Cascais

Up early and prepared the boat for departure with a quick trip to the harbour office to pay our dues. In a sizeable swell and cool, cloudy conditions we headed south once again aiming for Cascais, just inside the River Tagus, downstream from Lisbon. The initially light 5kt wind increased to 18kts as we progressed towards Cabo Raso but, finally the sun came out, the first really nice day we had seen for some time. A pod of 7 dolphins joined us and stayed with us for around an hour, playing around the boat and regularly leaping from the water, but their numbers started to dwindle as they moved on, enabling to do some important marine biological research. We turned the music system up to a deafening level and played the Drifters followed by the Kinks. At this point the dolphins returned on mass with a few friends in tow. Our conclusion: dolphins like The Kinks!

Passing Cabo Raso we altered course southeast towards the River Tagus estuary enabling us to use the Genoa and passing lots of commercial shipping at anchor on the way. We arrived at Cascais in warm sunshine but with a strong wind blowing off the reception pontoon enabling me to demonstrate how to get into a horrible mess when mooring. A helpful skipper from a boat ahead took a line from us but Synergy got blown sideways until we were at 90 degrees to the pontoon, in a mess and highly embarrassed. A bit of power brought us round and eventually we were all sorted and tied up, looking sheepishly around to make sure that we hadn’t had too much of an audience. The arrival formalities complete and expecting help to moor up in our berth, we made our way deeper into the marina to find our allocated spot. No one was there to meet us, but with the same fickle wind now blowing firmly onto the pontoon, Jac and I were able to arrive in good style and watch other poor souls in more difficult berths than ours struggling to get tied up.

Cascais Marina is a big, modern affair; well organised with all the facilities, restaurants shops and the like. We grabbed a hamburger at one of the Marina eating houses and settled onto Synergy for the night, expecting to move on again in the morning.

18th August 2015                                 Cascais

Morning dawned to a howling gale and we weren’t going anywhere today. This turned out to be an “English” day. We found a restaurant serving a full English fry up for breakfast and then we went to explore Cascais. It turned out to be a very pretty place, but very much a tourist town and not the sort of place that we like to spend too much time. However, we did find a curry house to round off the “English” cuisine. Then back to Synergy in a brisk and cold breeze.

Figueira da Foz to Peniche

We needed diesel as the engine had seen a lot of use down the Portuguese coast with the consequent heavy consumption of fuel. Unfortunately another boat was faffing around on the refuelling pontoon, so we had to “hover” in the marina for around 10 minutes until the pontoon was vacant and we could moor up and fill the tank. That completed we left the river for the 60 mile run to Peniche or Nazaré, we hadn’t yet decided which. Again the wind was a light southerly, completely in the wrong direction for sailing so we chugged along southwards under the engine. The day had been quite pleasant but we soon ran into a very thick fog bank which reduced the visibility to 50 metres in places. The poor visibility only lasted for about an hour and then, mercifully we were out of it into clear conditions. Still, good excuse to play with the fog horn!

We decided to bypass Nazaré and  press on to Peniche as the conditions, other than the unfavourable wind were good. The coast off Nazaré has the reputation for generating some of the largest waves in the world and being something of a Mecca for surfers – something to do with a deep trench in the sea bed- but to us the sea was kind, with nothing more than a long and gentle Atlantic swell. Approaching the headland beyond which lies Peniche, we had to keep a sharp lookout as the area was littered with fishing buoys.

Peniche turned out to be only a fishing harbour with one dedicated visitor’s pontoon just inside the entrance. Space was limited so we had to raft up to a smaller German boat, Mulli,  with a young couple on board. We had a sumptuous dinner of Tuc biscuits, olives and peanuts. Anticipating a long run on the morrow, we turned in early but had a disturbed night due to the constant passage of fishing boats, none of which seemed to be observing the speed limit, causing Synergy to rock and roll all night long.

Leixos to Figueira da Foz

After France, and even the coast of Spain, Portugal is pretty sparsely populated with suitable stopping places for cruising yachts. So we found ourselves with some long hops to make to reach the next night’s berth. On the upside, we found that we were putting lots of miles behind us an the target of reaching Gibraltar by mid-September was starting to look easy. At 67 miles, the run from Leixos to Figuero do Foz was one of the longer ones and also one of the least eventful. The light wind was almost on the bow so the sails weren’t much help and, once again, the engine did all the work. It was an easy passage with a few dolphins for company for a while and “George” the autopilot doing the helming work for us. We talked briefly to a Canadian on a British flagged boat that we overtook named Onegin (apparently and disappointingly not pronounced One Gin) and agreed to meet up for a drink if we happened to arrive in the same port. Figueira da Foz is located on the Mondego river with the marina lying on the right bank a short way up the river conveniently placed for an easy walk into town. After a quick look around we had dinner on the boat and turned in for the night with another long day ahead of us.

Viana do Castelo to Leixoes

We left early in the morning before the swing bridge closed. It is left open at night but is closed to allow access to pedestrians after 0800 and only opened on request during the day. With 10 minutes to spare we retraced or steps of the previous Tuesday and passed the rock festival which was playing music even at that early hour. We managed some sailing but mostly with engine running and had a relatively uneventful trip until we approached Leixõs, when the heavens opened. As we crossed the commercial harbour the rain increased to a deluge and we were thoroughly soaked by the time we reached the marina at the back of the harbour. There was no answer on the radio and no one around to guide us. The reception pontoon was full so we moored up at the nearest convenient spot which was a rather rickety old pontoon which my foot went through as soon as I stepped off the boat. Apparently it was lunchtime which was why no one was around. while waiting for the marina office to re-open, we noticed a very battered Bavaria 40 at the end of our pontoon. Its spray hood was in tatters the deck was covered in lichen and it looked as if it had sunk and been salvaged: its name –“Phoenix.” It would take a lot of work to make that one rise from the ashes.

In the afternoon the rain eased and we took a stroll into Leixõs (pronounced something like Layshoise!) and grabbed a meal at a nearly empty restaurant.

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Dinosaur Porto. Doesn’t everywhere have one?

14th August 2015                                  Porto

The reason for visiting Leixõs, apart from there being few stopping options on the Portuguese coast, was its proximity to Porto which we wanted to visit. We took a bus into Porto and then took a hop on-hop-off tourist bus around the city which is steeped in history (and port producing houses). The bus stopped on the east bank of the river Douro where all the port producers were located. After lunch, purchased from a riverside stall, we set off up the very steep hill leading to the Taylor’s Port emporium (one of) our favoured brands. Having puffed our way to the top of the hill, Taylor’s site was very reminiscent of a sherry Bodega or a Scotch Whiskey distillery – very pretty and well kept and not much activity as most of the work was done inland up the River Douro where the grapes are grown. We sampled some port, three varieties in all: Chip dry port, tawny and ruby only a sample of the different possibilities. I had no idea there were so many. After a very informative tour of the site which included information on what went into it and what makes a real vintage port, we made our way back down the hill to the bus. Completing the circuit back to where we started took us through the very picturesque old town by the river. By the time we reached Leixõs we were exhausted and fell into the nearest restaurant, who’s name I wish I could remember. It was extremely popular with the local Portuguese and the reason became apparent when we received the bill. Two sea bass and a couple of rounds of drinks came to 9 Euros per head. When we questioned the low price a Portuguese at a nearby table said that it was a flat rate of 9 Euros whatever you ate or drank. Outstanding!!

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Baiona to Viana do Castello

By now, we were getting a little concerned at all the delays and we were determined to put some miles behind us so that we might reach Gibraltar by our target date of mid- September. We were up early for our run down to Viana do Castelo, the first stop in Portugal. After refuelling the boat we set off in quite murky conditions with a visibility of slightly less than 2 miles. The visibility improved as we went, but the wind was unfavourable – right on the bow, so it was motoring yet again. We made good time and overtook a larger French ketch who wished to know if his AIS (automatic identification system) was working. It wasn’t, which may have given him problems later as the visibility started to drop rapidly and we quickly ran into a fog bank which reduced the visibility to less than 100 metres at times. We had no option but to press on with a sharp lookout the radar on and a close watch for other boats on the AIS.

It was a good chance to try out the fog horn which we hadn’t had cause to use until now. It is a pump up version with a canister like an aerosol, but with a hand pump on the end. After a few pumps the release handle lets the compressed air through the horn, initially producing the traditional horn like sound, but fading to a strangled squawk as the pressure faded. Motoring on with a good lookout for other vessels and for the copious fishing buoys that were even harder to see in the murk and periodically sounding like a strangled duck we finally came close to the entrance to Viana do Castelo, but nothing was to be seen.  We had to carry out some evasive manoeuvres to dodge fishing boats that were running for home, but saw none of them; the AIS was worth its weight in gold that day! Finally, with all the fishing boats well ahead of us, we made progress towards the river entrance, but nothing was to be seen. Motoring almost completely blind, it was a great relief when the breakwater appeared about 100 metres away and we made our way into the shelter of the river. Initially the banks of the river and the buoys marking the channel were very difficult to see but, mercifully, the visibility improved as we got further upstream until we were able to see the swing bridge into the marina. A call to the harbour master and the bridge swung open and it was with great relief that we moored up.

Swing bridge, Viana do Castelo

This was our first encounter with lazy line moorings, bow in and secured at the stern with lines fixed to the sea bed. The harbour master helped us in, but the bow-in mooring gave Jac a problem climbing on and off over the anchor.  A friendly French couple, moored alongside stern in, saved the day by letting us use their boat as a stepping stone to the shore. After a wander around town followed by a meal of steak cooked in port, we retired to a hostelry, The Irish Bar (they get everywhere) which had the bonus of a good internet connection.

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12th August 2015                  Viana do Castello

We were running out of clean clothes so it was time for a washing run. The machines were a half mile from the boat on the other side of the marina across the swing bridge so this was going to take a while. Having started the washing we took a trip into town and went looking for a chandlery and to do some rubber-necking around the fishing port down the river. It is quite a pretty town and yet another with a rock festival going on. Having collected the washing we headed back to the Irish bar and used the internet to order some boat parts before having yet another hamburger and heading to bed.