Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First photo pages of Portugal are up

John and I have both been busy working on photo pages for the Web site while we didn't have Internet. You can see the results now. Just go to our Photo index page and look under "Latest Additions."


Monday, September 28, 2009

Anchored at the southwest corner of Europe

We haven't had Internet since Peniche a week ago, and there we had to take the laptops to the Java House to connect. The exception was a quick check for weather and e-mail in the marina office in Oerias. Sesimbra had a couple of wireless routers, but there was no Internet behind them. So, I apologize for the failure to post to the blog. This post is being sent over the single side band radio and Sailmail.

The big news is that we're finally heading east, or will be in the morning when we pull the anchor and head into Lagos. There I hope to be able to post all the photo pages that we've been working on since we didn't have Internet to distract us.

We did enjoy our time in Lisbon, but it was too short. We're considering visiting again in the early summer on our way to the Azores. All we did was take the double-decker tour bus on a couple of tours. Oh, and we sampled the local cherry liquor called ginjinha.

At Sines we were surprised to meet a couple of Americans, Phil of Deep Blue and Lee of Renegade. We knew that our raft-up partner from Horta last year, Per Mare, was at Sines, but the owner, Gerry, is in the U.K. until this weekend. His sailing partner, Magnus, was in Sines, though, and he introduced us to the Americans.

After a few beers in Solstice's cockpit, Phil took us on a provisioning run. When we got back to the boat, Phil's local friend Nuno was looking for him to go to dinner. They invited us to join them, and we accepted. Completing the dinner party were Nuno's wife, Marcia, and another friend, Miguel. (I've probably misspelled everyone's names, but I hope they'll forgive me.) It was such a treat to get to spend time with local people, and everyone was very gracious. Plus, we finally tried bacalhau, the salt cod that seems to be the Portuguese national dish. Since we wanted to try it anyway, the waitress (who spoke excellent English, by the way) suggested that we try two different preparations. (There are said to be thousands of ways to serve bacalhau.) Both were very tasty casseroles with rice. John's also had cream and was very rich. Marcia told us that we could take the leftovers home with us, and they'll be dinner tonight.

It was a long day today with no wind. There really aren't any places to stop between Sines and Cabo São Vicente, and it's 55 miles, so we started in the twilight before dawn and anchored just at sunset. Our average speed has been down to 4.5 knots, and there are currents along this coast, not always to our advantage. It's a beautiful anchorage nestled at the base of tall cliffs, one of which has an old fort on it. The anchorage is exposed to the south, so we would only want to be here in calm weather. Of course, if there had been wind, we could have gone faster and maybe made it to Lagos before dark.

After all our overnight passages, you may wonder why the dark is such a big deal now. It's because of the fishing floats that litter the coast here. I call them fish sticks because most of them have a stick poking up with a flag on it, but often the flag is so bedraggled that it just looks like a stick. The line from the floats usually goes straight to the bottom, but sometimes there's a second float to aid in retrieval. We don't want John to have to go swimming in the middle of the night to cut away a line tangled in our prop, so we travel in daylight to avoid incidents.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Extra day in Peniche

John spent yesterday working on the boat, so we're spending an extra day in Peniche before heading to Oeiras (Lisbon area). No picture from here yet, but I've added more photos to the previous post.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Porto and Nazaré

Yesterday we sailed from Nazaré to Peniche—actually sailed for the first time since we arrived in Portugal. With advice from the Nazaré harbormaster on optimizing favorable current and a 15-knot breeze from the northwest, we were often sailing faster than 7 knots (speed over ground). Often, but not often enough to make it all the way to Oeiras near Lisbon. Later this week easterly winds are forecast out of Gibraltar, so there’s no rush for us to get to the corner where we’ll turn east, and we decided not to push it. We don’t have Internet on the boat here, so it gives me time to catch the blog up on our last two stops: Porto and Nazaré. I’ll add more photos when John has time to give me some.


Porto was great! We could easily have spent several more days there visiting museums and doing tourist things. It was slightly disappointing that the sail maker provided such fast turn-around on our sail repairs. His prices were so reasonable that we had him do some touch-up stitching on the jib in addition to patching the main sail. His name is Pires de Lima, but if you need him, all you need to do is ask at the marina office. They’ll even call him for you. He’s the only sail maker around, and everyone knows him. In fact, when we first docked, a nice man on a bicycle told us about him and gave us his phone number.

Appetizers and wine at the yacht club

The marina at Leixões is about a half hour bus ride from the center of Porto. The office told us where to catch the bus and which number to take (507). That was a good thing because the information at the bus stop was contradictory. It included two completely different routes for the same bus number: one route would take us to town and the other would take us somewhere north of there. The bus driver didn’t speak English, so we got on and took our chances. It’s all part of the adventure.

We were in luck, and the last stop on the bus was obviously close to the center of the city, so we walked down the hill until we saw double-decker tour buses. We learned in Brussels several years ago that a tour bus is a good way to get your bearings in a new city. The Yellow Bus that we selected offered 24- and 48-hour tickets that included three different tours and free rides on the public transportation system as well. That was perfect for us, and we bought the 48-hour ticket. A bonus is that we get a 25% discount on the same company’s tours in Lisbon.

After studying the map, we started with the tour that ended across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia where the port companies have their warehouses and tasting rooms. We like port, but didn’t actually know all that much about it. Andy Heger of the sailing yacht Spectacle was a big help with that. We met Spectacle in Panama, and the boat is now in Australia, but Andy and Melissa are Facebook friends, and when he saw where we were, he volunteered the names of the top port houses—in order. We started at the top of the list with Quinta do Noval, but their presence in Gaia in token. Their warehouse is in the Doura river valley with their vineyards. We tasted a few of their offerings and bought a bottle of 10-year-old tawny and went in search of the next name.

That was Fonseca, but we couldn’t find them, so we went to Taylor (Taylor Fladgate in the U.S.). It turns out that Taylor Fladgate owns Fonseca anyway. We had to walk up a very steep hill to get to Taylor Fladgate (just Taylor’s in Porto), but it was worth it. The lodge or cave, which is what the port warehouses are called, is surrounded by gardens and has a beautiful view of Porto across the river. They also offer a first-rate free tour including tastings, and we were in time for the last tour of the day. We learned a lot! At the end we took advantage of the chance to taste vintage port from a single quinta (the property where the grapes are grown). That’s something most lodges don’t offer, and we didn’t mind paying extra for it. It was worth it. We may never taste vintage port again, but now we at least know what we’re missing.

Single Quinta vintage ruby and 20-year tawny ports at Taylor’s

View of Porto from Taylor's balcony

Our second day started with a quest. We wanted Francesinha. John had asked the young man in the Taylor’s gift store what dish was typical of or unique to Porto. Francesinha was his answer, and we asked at the marina office where the best place was to get it. Café Classico was the answer. We’d seen the neighborhood where the café is on our tour the day before, so we walked there from the bus stop. It’s a good thing that we got our exercise because we definitely needed to burn some calories after that meal. What the heck is it, you wonder. Click the link on the first mention to see the Wikipedia answer.

John’s Francesinha

After that we hoofed it to the tour bus stop for the castle tour. It was really more of a fort tour, and it covered much of the same area as the historical tour the day before, but it also took us into the area near the marina. That was very helpful for finding public transportation alternatives to bus 507, and we were able to take a more scenic route out of town on the way home before transferring to bus 507.

Before we left town we needed to stock up on food and wine because the marina at Nazaré isn’t close to town, and the town is really small anyway. Also, it was an overnight passage, so we needed convenient things to eat. We had spotted a supermarket from bus 507, so we went to the stop to wait. After nearly an hour we gave up and headed back to the boat to get our map to a different supermarket within walking distance. On the way we met the friendly man on a bike from our arrival. He said we didn’t need the map, gave us directions, and even went part of the way with us. As we were hurrying to get to the store, John noticed the bicycle man waving to us from a car. He had gone home and gotten his car and was waiting to give us a ride to the store. It was so incredibly nice of him! He said he was waiting for his daughter to call him for a ride anyway and that he would wait while we did our shopping and then give us a ride back. We never did get his name, but we’ll never forget his kindness to us.


When we arrived at Nazaré the next morning, the harbormaster was there to take our lines and help us raft with a French boat. Mike, the harbormaster, explained that he wasn’t really working and took us up to the office to check in with the marina and customs. Then the immigration officer showed up to check our passports. He was the first uniformed immigration officer we’d seen since Alderney, and no one had stamped our passports since then either. When I mentioned this to him, he said we really should have our passports stamped and that he could do it, but the stamp was at his office. So he gave us a ride to his office in the tower overlooking the harbor. There he looked some stuff up on his computer and started rattling around at a cabinet. We didn’t know what that was about at first, but it turned out that the cabinet that stored the stamp was locked with a combination, and he couldn’t get it open. Embarrassed, he gave us a ride back to the boat and said he would come back later with our stamped passports. Well, he did return our passports but without the stamp. His colleagues couldn’t get the cabinet open either.

Jetty at Nazaré as seen from Sitio

We had only planned to spend one night at Nazaré, thinking that we would arrive early enough to check out the small town and then leave the next morning. On our passage, however, the pump for the head (toilet on a boat) broke down, so John needed to fix that before we left. It took several hours to complete that icky project, and by then it was pretty late, so we decided to stay a second night.

Nazaré is a pretty town with a great beach. It’s on two levels. Nazaré itself is at the foot of a cliff. At the top is Sitio da Nazaré, and a funicular connects the two. So we walked along the beach road in Nazaré, took the funicular to Sitio, admired the view and had a beer, and then walked through the narrow back streets of Nazaré to stay in the shade as much as possible on our way back to the boat. It was a very enjoyable way to spend the day, and we recommend it.

Fish drying on the beach at Nazaré

Plaza in front of the church at Sitio da Nazaré

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Viana do Castelo

We’ve enjoyed our brief stay here and wouldn’t mind staying longer, but the sail maker is in Leixões, so that’s where we’re headed today. The cruising guide says the water in the marina there is filthy, but Carlos here says that they’ve cleaned it up there now.

Yesterday was our one day for sightseeing here, and we made the most of it. First we walked around in the old city center, which has many buildings from the 16th century. There we found the tourist information office, got a map, and learned where to get the funicular to the top of the hill overlooking the city.

Park separating the waterfront from the old city

Shirlee in local costume

At the top of the hill is Saint Lucia Basilica, which looks old but was actually built in the 20th century, sort of like the Bénédictine palace in Fécamp. We did go inside, but what we were really after was the view, and it was great even though a smoky haze from a forest fire obscured the distant mountains. Busloads of tourists swarmed the area around the basilica, so, of course, there were also vendors selling souvenirs. As we were looking for something to buy, John spotted a guy selling sausages and cured meats, so that’s what we got.


Sausage vendor

Also at the top of the hill is a pre-Roman ruin, the oldest site we’ve seen in Europe. All the tourists go to the basilica, but few seem to continue on to the ruins. They reminded us of our visits to the Native American ruins in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, but without the interpretive center. Too bad because we would have liked to know more about the site.

Pre-Roman ruins

A stop at the harbor side Foz restaurant for Internet ended our evening. Earlier in the day we learned that one of the waiters is Welsh, and it was nice to find someone who could tell us a little more about the area. One thing we learned is that sangria is a Portuguese drink, not Spanish as we had thought. I don’t know if that’s really true, but the house-made sangria at the Foz was excellent.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wow, what a passage!

Crossing the Bay of Biscay may be one of those dreaded passages that lives up to its reputation—like Cape Mendocino and the Tasman Sea—or it could be our poor timing. The guide books say to be sure that no southwesterly weather is forecast. None was. They explain that the fierce waves are due to the ocean hitting the continental shelf, so we went well west of the shelf. The long-range weather forecast we got called for favorable winds in the 20-knot range. Perfect. And the forecast was consistent for several days before we left. Granted, we haven’t found the weather forecasting to be all that reliable, but what are you going to do? Sit around in the harbor forever?

We left Camaret with the predicted light southerlies and headed west to the real ocean. After 11 hours of mostly motor-sailing, much of it at the edge of a military practice area, we passed the fishing boats that hang out on the shelf and could finally turn south. According to the grib files (our short-wave radio source of weather forecasts), we would soon get 20-25 knots out of the northwest. Even though when we turned, we still had light south-southwest winds, we put a reef in the main. Within the course of an hour, the winds moved around and picked up, and we were sailing at six to seven knots pretty much downwind. Sweet!

The French navy exercising

The waves and wind kept building, and the British “shipping forecast” started calling for gales in southeast Fitzroy, right where we were headed. Darn the luck. Oh well, we’ve done gales before, and the boat takes them well even if we’re miserable, but this was on day two of a four-to-five-day passage, so I, at least, was wishing it was over already. (Note: the British shipping forecast is only a 24-hour forecast. They don’t do five days ahead, so they’re generally pretty accurate once they get around to issuing their forecast. By then it isn’t as much of a forecast as it is a statement of current conditions.)

During that second night we needed to put in the second reef, but before John could do that, the outhaul on the first reef broke during a jibe, and the tie-down we were using to hold up the extra sail sliced through the lower portion of the main sail. (Yes, that’s sailor talk. For non-sailors, the point is that our main sail tore, never mind how.) To add insult, while we were hove-to to reef, the line on our tow-behind generator wrapped itself around the skeg and had to be cut free. (We won’t be replacing the line. If anyone has a Ferris tow-behind generator and wants a spare generator and catcher, contact us.)

Broken outhaul (found after we docked)

And then our red-green navigation lights went out, but John fixed those. We don’t have working tri-color lights because when John went up the mast twice in Camaret, he couldn’t get to them so we’re going to hire someone. (Non-sailors, don’t sweat the details; just know that you need the red-green lights at night so that other traffic knows which way you’re going.)

When we got past the corner of Spain, things calmed down, and we even welcomed each other to sunny Spain. One more night of a peaceful motor-sail and we were outside Viana do Castolo, Portugal, in a pea-soup fog that reminded us of San Francisco Bay. In fact, because we were too late for the tide to go up the river to the marina, we turned off the engine to drift and heard the waves hitting the beach. That reminded me of beer-can races on Red Hawk out of Santa Cruz. In the fog Lou (the skipper) had us listen for the breakers so that we’d know when to turn into the harbor. Then we heard the boom of breakers crashing into rocks, checked the chartplotter to discover that we were drifting toward the beach, and restarted the engine.

Atlantic sunset

While waiting in the fog we discovered that those fishing stakes that have plagued us since the Baltic actually show up faintly on radar. And we were grateful for our AIS so that we could see what the two freighters were up to that were also drifting around in the fog. After one of them decided to move suddenly and got so close that we actually saw it as we were hurrying out of its way, I called the other to see what they were planning. I was informed that they were anchored already, but for the record, AIS still showed them “under way” when we started up the river.

Portuguese fishermen, another obstacle to avoid in the fog

As often happens in California too, just inland the fog cleared. So after we had inched past the first buoys and the jetties using GPS and radar, we could see to steer the rest of the way. And even though the marina didn’t answer on VHF or telephone, Carlos was on the dock to take our lines and welcome us to Viana and Portugal. And we’re very happy to be here with another American boat that came in behind us (Hannah Brown) and a friendly French couple on the catamaran Ti Corail that was already here when we arrived. Sail repair will have to wait for the next stop, but we plan to enjoy a couple of nights here in Viana do Castelo. It looks pretty.

As a post script since I didn’t get this entry uploaded last night, we had drinks and a lovely supper on Ti Corail with Agnès and Francis last night. They left this morning, but we hope we’ll see them again. They’re headed to the Caribbean, and we’ve added them to the list of boats we’re following, several of which are already in the Caribbean: Jammin , san clés , and Indigo.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hanging out in Camaret

We haven’t done much here. Some boat work and laundry. Went shopping and looked around town. Oh, and worked on more photo pages. I posted 11 more pages earlier today.

It looks like we’ll be leaving on Monday for Portugal. That’s later than we’d hoped, so we’ll have to hurry more than we would like. We might even have to plan in advance and make a schedule. We’re out of practice with that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Into September and out of the English Channel

As August changed to September we fought our way out of the English Channel against the wind and, at least half of the time, against the current. It has been more than 13 months since we first entered the Channel, and we’ve had a great time even though we didn’t have a lot of great weather.

Now we’re in Camaret-sur-Mer in southern Brittany waiting for our weather window to cross the Bay of Biscay to Portugal. The remains of former hurricane Danny are blowing through today and tomorrow. All that’s left is wind and rain. So far the wind isn’t even gale strength, but we’re glad to be at the dock instead of slamming around outside. Although it was beautiful when we sailed into the bay yesterday, the rain has started now, and it gives us time to work on photo pages for the Web site. Of course, we also have a few boat projects to complete before we embark on a four-day passage, but it looks like we’ll have time for that.

As usual, new photo pages are listed under “Latest Additions” on our photo index page and under “Recent Updates” on our home page.

Below are some photos from our passage out of the English Channel and into the Bay of Biscay—minus the bounce.