Wild West Coast
18 November 2017 | Portugal
I returned to Aqua Blue, wintering again in El Rompido, SW Spain, by late May 2017.
And after a rapid fit out, I single handed her to Portimao over three days. The last day from Culatra to Portimao was 11hrs into a freshening headwind, touching F6 apparent by late afternoon. I was minimising tacks by heading offshore, tacking back in when short 2mtr seas started to crest over the bows. But with a reef in the main, and some rolls in the genoa, the old bus crashed her way west. To finally shoot past Portimao breakwater at 8pm on the 2nd June, having seen not a single other yacht!
After a couple of days anchored off Ferragudo, AB was hauled by the giant travel hoist and propped ashore, high enough to fully lower the centreboard. I spent a week (during an early heatwave!), wearing old clothes and protective gear, while carrying out epoxy repairs to the main hull skeg, plus CB and trim board, with the encouragement of Paul Wells, who is rebuilding a 60ft tri here. A thorough cleaning and greasing of the excellent Kiwi prop ensured three point turns would still be possible! Finally a good coat of antifouling completed the work, for this year anyway!
On Monday 12th of June I walked up to Parchal station to meet Stella arriving by train from Faro airport. We dragged her case back to the yard admiring the profusion of large Stork nests, most with one or two young, already as big as their attentive parents. I like Portimao, a working town with good restaurants, and a riverfront to stroll by and sit at in the evenings.
Relaunched 48hrs later, AB was refuelled and watered at the marina, b4 anchoring off Praia Grande in the outer harbour for some R&R , altho I can never stop pottering onboard. It's a great beach with clean water and a couple of restaurants. Altho we alternate with Ferragudo for easier access to the shops.
It was now time to select a window for "going round the corner" . I was determined to tackle the first part of the west coast of Portugal which means waiting for a pause in the Nortada, the relentless summer north wind created by the Azores high pushing up against the thermal low over Spain. After a couple of days we moved the few miles further west to enjoy the great anchorage of Alvor. Quite windy but with less movement than Portimao, and still good shopping and eating out. The easterly Levanters seem more frequent than previous years to me, altho I'm no climate historian.
So when the wind clocked round we ran down to Sagres, but found the easterly seaway making the bay uncomfortable, if not untenable for overnighting. After another night in Alvor we made a much earlier start and were rounding Cape St Vincent by mid morning on Sunday 18th June, with a favourable fresh wind. And were able to broad reach up the west coast for few hours till the wind died. I'd already identified Arrifana bay as a possible overnight stop and we motored in behind the headland at tea time. There was only a very slight Atlantic swell and we had a relatively quiet night in this rather open anchorage, despite some katabatic blasts finding their way over the peninsula. Under way again by 7am, (the two hundred foot cliffs don't exactly encourage you to hang around!), we had to motor up the coast all day. We paused outside Milfontes, knowing it was low tide and an unmarked very shallow entrance, but keen to observe for a future visit. In fact I had crossed the bar for one night exactly 30yrs ago in Freedom of Norwich, another Kelsall trimaran.
By the evening we pulled into Sines and anchored initially on the east side of the inner harbour, just outside the marina. But the close presence of two other yachts plus an annoying swell, made me move west to anchor just outside the fishing boat moorings. Just below the free lift which ascends the yellow concrete cliffs, towards Vasco da Gama's stern statue. There's a long staircase as well, if you fancy the exercise after dragging your dinghy up the beach! We spent several days here. I think Sines old town is charming. Seemingly only reluctantly tolerating a few bijou hotels and tourists. A few moderately priced restaurants and bars help while away the time. And there's a very healthy Swift population occupying the drainage holes in the yellow cliffs. They continually screech and do low flybys as one attempts to capture them on "film"!
On the grey morning of the longest day we motored round the Sines sunken breakwater buoy and headed north. Later managing to sail in "mizzle" up to the Setubal entrance channel, altho we just continued, to anchor outside the small craft moorings at Portinho de Arrabida for a catch up siesta. By 6pm the wind was howling off the mountains and we stayed onboard, to start a Coen Brothers box set, particularly enjoying "Burn After Reading". Before a rather disturbed night, good ground tackle needed here!
During a quite chilly pre brekkie swim I managed to unwrap a stray mooring rope from the prop. Then ashore to visit Fort Arrabida which surprisingly contains a small maritime museum. There are also rooms to let at one of the restos, in this most pleasant anchorage. We then rode the tide up to Setubal and anchored as advised by the pilot in the filthy water off the Yacht Club. Shortly a RIB skipper informed us we risked a hefty fine if we remained within 300mtrs of the wall! We moved SE to Castello San Phillipe but it seems a rough area. So we crossed to Troia and the marina there informed us over the VHF they had no room for multis!! So back north to anchor off Albarquel beach west of Setubal. And this is a pleasant spot with no overnight katabatic blasts. Altho the beach bars basically close by 7pm. Still we caught up on sleep!
In the morning we beached the dinghy and walked and hitched into Setubal. Which is really worth it for the huge mercado and especially the 15thC Igreja Jesus, with it's spiral columns in local stone. I also walked down to the Club Nautico who confirmed anchoring off not now permitted and indeed they recommended we continue to use the Albarquel beach. A taxi from outside the Mercado sped us back to the Praia for a coldie. Back on board by 12.30 we plugged the tide down channel and re-anchored at Arribida for a good fish meal in A Faro resto, b4 another windy night demonstrated the holding power of the Rocna. In fact with F7 fcst in the morning we spent another day at Arrabida, maintaining AB. Even changing the Yannie water pump impellor, and finally connecting the waterproof cockpit speakers to my new toy, an eBay 24volt Brennan, basically a giant iPod! Stella, a Radio 3 aficionado, will tolerate some of the blues and fusion I prefer.
More violent blasts overnight but I did sleep from 2am, you can get used to anything! Unbelievably on 25th June in southern Portugal we awoke to rain! I sorted oilies after brekkie and raised the Rocna between williwaws. We were motoring south in zero wind by late morning. With two huge bumblebees in the cockpit, no doubt blown off the Sierra overnight. We eventually sailed the last few miles back to Sines and released the bees. It was very quiet in town on a Sunday eve.
We appreciated the quiet night at anchor, but apparently blasts off the cliffs are not unknown in Sines either. In the morning we moved AB onto the Cais Recepcao to fill with diesel and water. Then transferred her onto the outside visitor quay , helped by a Brit yottie who's been here for 12 years. After signing up to good wifi Stella easily booked her return flight, who's B Pass the marina office printed. I appreciated the very soft water, in the brilliant showers. The air temp was only 70F!
The morning of the 27th June brought the return of the Nortada. So a late morning investigation of the unmarked Milfontes entrance bar was abandoned for this year. Instead we left at 9am for Cape St Vincent. And a long day's run in increasing wind ensued. With several long displays by dolphins under the bows. I'm convinced they like multihulls! We rounded the Cape after exactly 10hrs as the sun set, great views brought the cameras out! Hook down in a calm Sagres bay inside an alloy cat by 8pm. M&S tinned curries are so good!
A very quiet night, altho some slight swell does refract round Pt Sagres. We beached the dinghy and walked round Henry's Fortaleza on the headland. Again exactly 30yrs since the last time. Altho Sue Keane and I had previously driven here in a TR2 in 1970!! We then ran east to Cape Piedade in a rising nor westerly, which we rounded just inside the fish farm, accompanied by a couple of large Bottlenose dolphins. Later re-anchoring in Alvor in the slight shelter of the villa with blue pontoons, for a good meal ashore. The place is a bit of a multihull graveyard, but of course to me they're interesting!
After three windy nights in Alvor we transfered AB east back to Portimao on the 1st July, which was surprisingly cool in the early morning, only 63F at 7am. As usual we alternated between Praia Grande for loafing and swimming, and Ferragudo for shopping and eating out. Then into the marina to ease Stella's journey home, which she managed in 8hrs on the 5th. I booked my EZY flight too via the marina wifi. And also dinghied up to RCS and begged a lift out, but Paulo was still "doing his places"!
So on Sat 8th July I hauled the Rocna and singlehanded back to Faro, anchoring at Culatra by 3.45pm. Ashore later for a good Corvino, I got a fishbone stuck in my throat which bothered me for 36hrs or so. Henry Honda was behaving much better after the simple expedient of applying some Contralube to the plug connection! I use it on every electrical terminal now, esp the windlass connections in the focsle.
Only 2.6ft under AB's hull on Sun morning, I do exploit the shallow draft! By 11am I was sailing east along the southern side of the huge fish farm when I noticed splashes from what I initially assumed were dolphins. But shortly sickle fins made me realise I was looking at very large Tuna! Later I was slowly overhauled by a large green Spanish yacht under spinnaker. They came very close for pics and interrogated me, "are you alone?". I then ran into Ayamonte with a fresh seabreeze on the last of the flood tide, and the heavy old bus twice touched 9.9kts! There were seven yachts anchored outside the marina and I joined them, not going ashore, it's not obvious where to leave a dinghy here. We bounced around with current against wind till 3am.
Finally I ran back to El Rompido's shallow winding entrance under MPG, to reclaim AB's very comfortable and convenient winter berth on the inside "cat quay". Francisco and the marineros are very welcoming.