Pelagia had wintered in the water in the marina at Lagos, Portugal. Pat and I returned to her late April to ready her for the return trip to the UK. Sailing north up the coast of Portugal is challenging because the prevailing winds are northerly and the swell in the Atlantic water can be huge. It is normally better to start early in the year before the heat builds in Spain and generates the northerly trade winds. So it was the end of April that we planned to leave. James Dick joined us as crew for the first two weeks and we prepared to leave on Sunday 30 th April. In spite of a reasonable forecast, we awoke to a cloudy day but still checked out of the marina to leave. Heavy rain started and we held our departure for an hour until it stopped. We do not like sailing the Portuguese coast at night because of a plethora of fishing marks unlit, one of which we fouled last season at night off Faro. Therefore our first leg to the port of Sines was done over two days firstly going to an anchorage just close behind Cape St Vincent, in the bay of Sagres. Then doing the 60 miles to Sines the next day. The 16 miles to Sagres was calm and gradually the sky cleared to sun. At the anchorage we tucked in as close to the beach as possible to avoid the swell rolling around Cape St Vincent and we had a good nights sleep.
Setting off at first light we rounded the Cape and met the large swell of about 3 metres rolling in from the north west but with some confused cross seas. As we set course northwards the swell settled a little and we sailed in a force four wind for some distance up the coast. The day was partly overcast but cleared to sunshine later. The wind increased to force five then six and finally seven with increasing wave height accordingly. The seas were unpredictable and breaking, many of which broke right over the deck, the water washing up to the windscreen and over the top. One wave washed our starboard bow navigation light off its bracket and it was dangling by its wire, leaping into the air as each successive wave hit it. I thought we would lose the light as the wire chaffed through, but it was too rough to attempt to recover it at this stage. We entered Sines harbour in awful conditions but very relieved after a 12 hour passage. The light was still hanging and when I cleaned it, dried it, and remounted it, the light still worked! What wonderfully strong bulbs they make for these lights!
A good sleep berthed in the sheltered marina was terminated early so we could leave for Cascais, another 50 mile sail. Luckily the wind had died and the swell reduced to manageable proportions. We motored until a light wind enabled us to sail for an hour then motored the rest of the way. The sky was jet black in places with cloud forming into heavy showers and some water spouts forming in the distance. We only caught a short shower and by the time we entered Cascais harbour near Lisbon it was sunny. The weather turned very windy with large swells and we stayed in Cascais for three nights awaiting the next weather window. Cascais is a picturesque town with attractive gardens and buildings so it was no hardship to stay there. It also has good shops to restock supplies for the next legs.
Lighter winds and reduced swell was forecast for the Friday so we again left early for the 45 mile sail to Peniche. Sailing around Cabo Roca was choppy but nothing too bad and we settled into the sail north, motor sailing in light winds. The day was bright and sunny although still far from warm and we managed some sailing as light winds set in. Arriving in Peniche we tied to the long visitors pontoon in the harbour which now seemed to be used more by local boats and fishing trip boats than visiting yachts. The few yachts that did arrive rafted outside us for the night. The harbour is poor and run down, in spite of which they still managed to charge us 22 euros for nothing other than the pontoon space!
The morning dawned bright but with a very heavy wet dew and little wind. Some of the boats had already left without paying and the harbour master ranted and raved about this as we left and threatened to have them caught at their next port. We motored north around Cabo Carvoeira and towards Nazare in very light winds and low heaving swell. It was a sunny but cool day and as a light breeze wafted in from the sea we could see that mist was coming on with it. A yacht not too far from us disappeared in the mist and gradually it closed around us, obscuring the view of the coast and everything around. Visibility was only 100 yards and with many fishing marks around we had our work cut out to spot them and avoid catching the ropes. We had about five miles to go to Nazare harbour and using the chart plotter we piloted our way to the harbour piers which appeared thankfully in front of us at about 50 yards after a trip of 23 miles.
Nazare had changed since our previous experience with mad Mike the marina master and the yacht club marina gave us a much improved berth with good facilities and cheaper than Peniche!
Nazare is World renown for the surfing championships because it has some of the biggest surf rollers in the World at 30 metres when the conditions are right. Luckily there was no such surf when we arrived. There were more cars parked around the harbour than we believed possible and we wondered why until we learnt that there was intended to be a procession of boats for “Men of the Sea” festival, but it was on hold until the fog cleared. Apparently families draw lots to decide which religious icon they can carry on their boat. The icon is then paraded through town on a float with garlands of flowers, transferred to a decorated fishing boat and taken out to sea for three circuits of the bay. The icons are taken out in strict order following the traditions of centuries. More and more people arrived in the town and thronged the harbour walls, so luckily the fog lifted and the boats put out to sea for the parade accompanied with horns blaring and music playing. We were fortunate to see it all and to see how seriously the locals took this religious festival, a bit like the blessing of the boats in the UK.
When we arose the next morning it was foggy in spite of a forecast for good visibility so we delayed departure to see if it cleared. After about an hour it seemed to lift and we could see the end of the headland so we left the marina bound for Figueira da Foz about 36 miles north. No sooner had we cleared the bay when the fog returned but we motored on with eyes on stalks looking for fishing marks to avoid. Around mid morning the sun started to appear and drove off the mist but it kept returning in banks. Mid afternoon we reached the bay to enter harbour which was shrouded in fog and did not see the harbour walls until we were within their encompassing arms. We crept up the river to the marina hoping no big ships were about to leave the port and berthed safely after 36 miles at sea. Figueira da Foz is a pleasant town with an excellent market and shops so it was no hardship to realise the weather would keep us here for at least the next four days. James Dick was able to visit the nearby city of Coimbra which we visited last time we passed down this coast. Coimbra was the ancient capital of Portugal and is now a beautiful university town. Pat and I walked the expansive beaches which were deserted in this weather but well kept and clean. Several boats had arrived at Figueira and all waiting for the next weather window to go north. We befriended a couple on a Sadler 34 next to us who were uncertain whether to leave on the Friday which we predicted would be a short weather window. After four nights the Friday forecast was ok for the next 12 hours but was predicted to deteriorate again. We decided we could make Leixoes harbour near Porto, 65 miles north in that time and this would get James Dick to his flight out from Porto on Monday. The Sadler yacht named Locomotion had been reluctant to go because of their slower speed, but decided that morning to do it. The swell was still large at 3 metres as we left and we rolled our way out of the harbour and around the headland in clear but grey skies gradually lightening as the morning progressed. Locomotion had left 20 minutes before us at first light but we could not see their navigation lights anywhere. After one hour we checked with AIS the position of their yacht and noted that it was three miles behind us already and only making three knots. We do not know how we managed to overtake them without seeing them at all. After two hours we checked again and they were seven miles behind us still making three knots which made it unlikely they would get to Leixoes before dark. As predicted the weather was good, a wind came up from our beam and we sailed well for a while in bright sunshine. We entered harbour exactly 10 hours after leaving having logged 65 miles.
The weather that evening deteriorated to rain and strong north westerly winds not two hours after we arrived. The short weather window was correct but we saw no sign of our friends following yacht and wondered where they could be in the now awful conditions. James Dick would fly out from here on the Monday and we could sit here and await the next weather window after that. Meanwhile we all travelled into the city of Porto on the bus and although the weather was windy and very cool, we enjoyed a day there. We took lunch in the restaurant of Taylor’s port, overlooking the city with fabulous views high above the rooftops. Our long walk to find it was soon forgotten when a fabulous meal was served accompanied with a selection of ports. Pat and I continued to wander the streets of the city after lunch even though the town was packed with tourists many of whom were there to watch some motorcycling event on the river frontage.
We have sailed or motored 303 miles up the coast to this point and James Dick leaves us here to continue the coast whilst he flies home. We are unlikely to leave here in the next four days as strong northwesterly winds and large swells effect the coast, but a calmer spell is expected after that. We have still seen no sign of our friends yacht Locomotion and can only hope they returned to Figueira or managed to find shelter elsewhere.
Chris and Pat