The marina at Albufeira is pleasant but expensive (48 euros/night) and the 15-20 minute walk to town is a drag on a hot day. Albufeira is known as the St. Tropez of the Algarve...which really means there are toooo many tourists.... We enjoyed exploring the alleyways and watching the people. Christopher and I had one night on the town after the girls went back to the boat, checking out the live entertainment in the bars. The last bar was the best, with a group of young guys from the UK playing Nirvana and Metallica at extremely high volume in a small room. It was fun.
Everyone in the family was anxious to get to Spain and we had hoped to sail directly from Albufeira to Chipiona. There was one problem- every time we phoned Chipiona to try to reserve a berth in the marina, we were told to phone back later. We tried them enroute and still no luck-and there didn't seem to be an anchorage near Chipiona. The seas were a bit choppy so we opted to divert to Faro/Olahau. This is a river entrance and the tide was on the way in. From a distance, we could see whitecaps breaking at the entrance, but we decided to give it a try since there appeared to be lots of depth. As we closed to the entrance, we experienced breaking waves of 4-6 feet where the incoming tide met the river current. Once inside, everything calmed down.
The Imray guide suggests three possible anchorages in this area, but some of the options looked too shallow and we were concerned about getting trapped by the tide. We opted to drop the hook off the island of Culatra, in 16 feet with a mud/sand bottom, among boats from France, Spain and Ireland. Culatra ended up being a nice choice. It was great to be at anchor at last, and away from the Algarve marinas.
There is a small village on shore- just paths, and no cars, but with a few small restaurants/bars. The island is part of a nature preserve and a boardwalk has been constructed through the town and across a salt marsh to a beautiful beach. As we walked through, there were children playing in small alleyways, women were working in open-air kitchens, and a man was making a fishing net by hand.
The next morning, as I was having my coffee on deck, I watched an elderly man wearing an old ball cap row into the anchorage in a dilapidated row boat, rowing slowly with very short strokes. He started fishing using a handline, and was quickly joined by two or three gulls who slowly circled the boat, watching closely. He had a slow and practiced jig, and within minutes he had hauled in a small fish, and continued to do so every few minutes as I watched. I suspect the fish were sardines, based on the size. Being at anchor really is so much nicer than sitting in marinas.
But Spain was still beckoning, and Katherine's departure date was imminent, so we had to move on. We were still unable to get a confirmed berth in Chipiona so we headed for Ayamonte, about 15 miles east, in the bay of Huelva (just across the river from Portugal's Vila Real de San Antonio). The entrance to this river was uneventful and although we had a depth reading of only 12 feet about a mile offshore, the channel deepened as we got closer. Ayamonte is also a nice marina and since marina prices in Spain tend to be lower a boat of Aisling's size costs only 27 Euros/night. That only works if they have a berth of the proper size though- and since the only available berth was a size up, we ended up paying 47 Euros for the first night, with a promise that we would likely be moved to a smaller berth the next morning.
Since we were back in tapas territory, we wandered into the town in the evening and tried out a few small plates- but overall it was a bit disappointing. The take-our barbecued chicken across from the marina was more successful- and if we made a few blunders in switching from Portuguese to Spanish, no one seemed to mind.
Katherine has only a few days left, and we want to do some shore-based exploring before she leaves. So, the next morning, we started packing and tried to get the boat relocated to a less expensive berth. Several trips to the marina office resulted in the same response- come back in an hour- even though we could clearly see several empty slips Finally the reason was explained- the person in charge has to physically walk around the docks and count the spaces before a booking can be made- if he isn't there, nothing can be confirmed. It seems that the Spanish bureaucracy can be equally as confusing as the Portuguese!
We'll write more about our road trip later. In the meantime, all the best from Aisling 1.
After three days in Lagos, we decided it was time to move on. On Wednesday, we had a leisurely motorsail past endless beaches and brilliantly coloured cliffs, arriving in the marina at Albufeira in mid-afternoon. The resort surrounding the marina in Albufeira has been appropriately described as "Legoland"- the modernist condominiums look as though they were assembled from giant, pastel-coloured lego blocks. The water quality in the Albufeira marina is far superior to Lagos- it is so clear that we can see the fish swimming under the surface. We are a fifteen minute walk away from the town centre and the beach, but the views along the way are very pleasant. The long, sandy beach sits below towering multicoloured cliffs, and the town is packed with interesting sights (and, of course, with tourists).
On Thursday, Katherine and I left Rick behind in Albufeira (awaiting Christopher's arrival) and took the bus to Silves, a small town about 50 kilometers northwest of Albufeira. The bus ride took us through the desert-like terrain of the Algarve, with oversized cacti and craggy, rugged-looking trees, but with periodic splashes of lushness, including groves of orange trees. After the hustle and bustle of Albufeira, arriving in the quiet streets of Silves felt like stepping into an almost-deserted movie set. Although the town dates back to Phoenician and Carthaginian times, most of the buildings post-date the 1755 earthquake. Still, it is quite lovely, with elegant tiled buildings in narrow cobblestone street. A medieval bridge, an impressive cathedral and a (circa 9th century) castle survived the earthquake, although the cathedral and castle were severely damaged. The cathedral's interesting patchwork of styles is the result of repairs through the centuries, but some impressive gothic features remain. The red sandstone castle looms over the town, and we walked around the ramparts and checked out the views from all sides.
Our bus arrived back in Albufeira at 7 p.m.- well before Christopher's, which finally pulled in to the "Centro" bus station at 930 p.m. Since we had been expecting him to arrive at the downtown stop, that created some confusion, but we eventually collected him in a taxi. His journey had been equally as long and trying as Katherine's- and, believe it or not, his luggage was also missing! In spite of that, he was in great humour and we had a delicious late-night family dinner of barbecued chicken and roasted vegetables- served in the cockpit, by the light of a citronella candle. (No bugs here, but Aisling is equipped for Nova Scotia cruising!)
Yesterday we explored the town and went to the beach; in the evening we had dinner at a restaurant in the square. After dinner, the guys stayed in town to enjoy the local party scene, and Katherine and I retired back to the boat and our books. Today, we had intended to sail to Villamoura, but were held up by the failure of Christopher's suitcase to arrive. It finally showed up at 4 o'clock this afternoon- too late to leave- so we went back for another wander in the town and then had dinner at a little restaurant overlooking the water. Tomorrow we will attempt a longer sail to Chipiona, Spain. We hope to find a secure place there to leave Aisling while we do a few days of land-based exploring in Seville, Evora and Lisbon.
All the best from Aisling I
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We motored away from the Sines anchorage at 0630 on Saturday morning- we had read that the weather at Cabo de Sao Vincent can be unpredictable, and we hoped to get past the cape before the afternoon nortada came up. In the end, we didn't even have enough wind to fill the sails. The day was hot and sunny, and we were able to relax and enjoy the view as we motored quietly along in 3-4 knots of wind. We had a pod of dolphins join us for a while- and, more unusually, a flock of brightly-coloured dragonflies.
Cabo de Sao Vincent, the most westerly point in continental Europe, is a curious-looking formation- a long plateau with a top so flat it looks as though it was pushed out into the sea with a huge smoothing-iron. Some sections of the cliffs are red with horizontal striations; in other sections the rock is grey with vertical grooves that give the appearance of huge petrified tree- trunks. At the top of these cliffs are huge wind farms of propellors every few miles, supplementing the European power grid. At the base, there are many beaches where the surfing crowd take advantage of the long rollers that come in from the northwest. The tip of the cape is quite rugged, with rocky outcroppings below a lighthouse.
After turning the corner past Cabo de Sao Vincent, we made our way past Sagres (site of Prince Henry's navigation school) and into the Algarve, to begin a two week family vacation with Christopher and Katherine. As we approached Lagos, the views of the rocky cliffs and sandy beaches were spectacular. After sailing over 3000 miles (400 since our arrival in Baiona) we are ready for some lounging on the foredeck and beachfront cafes!
We arrived in Lagos (pronounced lah-goosh) at 1900, filled Aisling with fuel (323 Euros - more wind please!) checked in to the marina and were assigned a spot amongst the other 400 boats. Lagos seems a world away from the other Portuguese towns we have visited. Although its history dates back to ancient times, the old town was flattened by the 1755 earthquake. Today, it is a tourist resort favoured by the British- English is spoken almost everywhere and at times it is possible to forget that we are in a foreign country. The marina is large and luxurious (even a swimming pool!) but rather smelly, especially at low tide. We had originally intended to wait here until Christopher arrives on the 30th- now we think we may continue further east to seek some clean air.
Katherine finally arrived at 1900 on Sunday, after a trying journey that included a flight delay in Montreal, a missed connection in Newark, lost baggage, language challenges in Lisbon and a long bus journey to Lagos. It took 48 hours for her bag to reappear, but that wasn't a big problem. Fortunately, the streets of Lagos are well supplied with shops selling beach attire, and she was able to find all the essential items. (String bikinis can be had here for 10 euros, in case you were wondering).
Today was hot and sunny, and we headed off by dinghy to explore some of the cliffs, grottos and beautiful beaches that surround Lagos. Spectacular multi-coloured cliffs, dozens of little "Fairy Holes", crystal clear water and hot sand- it was perfect! Later, we had lunch on the marina dock and then explored the town until early evening.
Tomorrow we will sail to Albufeira, where Christopher's will join us and the family vacation will be truly up and running!