Hola from Seville - where we have completed this year's voyage - a relaxed 407 miles over the past 5 weeks, bringing our total for the year to 871 miles. We have enjoyed generally favourable winds and spent most nights at anchor, avoiding marinas almost entirely. Our social life has been active during this period among the crews of several yachts and several nationalities - including two couples from Bristol who we will certainly be seeing again.
After our excellent kayaking adventure in the northwest US, we returned to Aremiti in Nazare, half way down the west coast of Portugal. She was in fine form having been left in the very capable hands of Mike and Sally, the British couple who run the exceptionally friendly and helpful little marina. It took us quite a few days to settle back into cruising mode, while we did a few jobs and planned the remainder of our voyage.
Our first leg southwards was 26 miles to Peniche - a cracking sail in perfect wind and a big rolly sea, accompanied by dolphins joyously leaping and diving around our bow. As we rounded Cabo Carvoeiro, turning east towards Peniche, we were knocked sideways by a fearsome wind acceleration - a pattern which came to be repeated around every headland along this coast.
The next leg - 47 miles - was to Cascais, just to the north of Lisbon. We set off in fog and no wind, but rounding Cabo de Roca (the westernmost point of mainland Europe) conditions changed miraculously, giving us sunshine and a good sailing breeze. We arrived just as the final race of the America's Cup World Series was starting. As soon as the race finished we crossed the 'race-track' over to the anchorage, finding ourselves in the midst of these extraordinary boats, still zooming around letting off steam with great excitement working off their adrenalin - together with a host of spectator boats in a very buzzy atmosphere. The next morning we woke to find the fleet of race boats anchored close by and so went out in the dinghy for a closer inspection. Going ashore to the very snazzy marina and up-market resort, it was fascinating to watch the dismantling of the race 'village' of pontoons, marquees and workshops - everything being loaded into containers ready for the next destination in the series. The 'sails' were particularly interesting - constructed like aircraft wings they broke down into sections for packing away.
We set off from Cascais in a mixture of sunshine and fog. Amid fog banks drifting around offshore it was curious to have sunshine on deck and blue skies above, but low visibility all around at sea level - and somewhat disconcerting as we crossed the path of shipping heading into Lisbon. Around the next headland we encountered another fearsome wind acceleration but were well reefed in anticipation for the few miles along the coast to Sessimbra - our next stop. The wind continued all through the afternoon and into the night, though strangely seeming not to affect the long beach covered with holiday-makers, with not a single sun-umbrella flipping while we were anchored just 100 metres off the beach in 25-30 knots. Sessimbra was a nice little town - a domestic holiday resort dominated by a great Moorish castle - which we explored the next morning before the wind got up. The next leg was 34 miles to Sines - in no wind - our own fault to try to sail in the morning rather than waiting for the afternoon wind - we should have known better by then. Sines was a sleepy little place - just a working town rather than a resort and seemed rather poor and run-down - except for an incongruously swanky and enormous brand new marble-clad library.
We decided on a night sail for our next passage - the 60 miles to round Cape St Vincent - with a forecast for better winds overnight than for the following day, and then for very strong winds for several days after that. In the event, there was very little wind and with an exceptionally heavy dew it was not quite the enjoyable passage we had anticipated, although we enjoyed the full moon. However, it was fantastic to round the iconic cape at dawn - anchoring just around the corner in the same spot we did 9 years ago almost to the day and celebrating the milestone of having made it to the Algarve! After breakfast and a kip, we moved on another 23 miles to Alvor, ahead of the forecast for stormy weather.
The little town of Alvor, situated between the large resorts of Lagos and Portimao, is on a river which enters the sea in a shallow lagoon of shifting sandbanks. Breakwaters protect the dredged entrance channel, but after that the mile or so channel to the town becomes rather vague. We decided to stay at anchor just inside the breakwaters for the night, planning to survey the route by dinghy at low water the next day before taking Aremiti further into the lagoon. That night the forecast storm arrived, with tremendous thunder, lightening and squalls with winds gusting up to 40 knots and dramatic shifts in direction. Anchored in the deepest spot we could find, but with less than 2 metres under the keel at low water, it was a nervous night - but all was well - thanks to our very trusty Spade anchor. The next day we gingerly proceeded to anchor off the town. There we found a large proportion of the anchored yachts were catamarans and not many deep keels at all - and the very sad sight of a yacht on its side on a sandbank, having broken its mooring in the previous night's winds. The owner was away and there was much head scratching amongst the crews of other yachts as to how to prevent further damage. We spent a couple of nights there - which happily coincided with yet another fiesta. Low key in comparison to Galacian fiestas, it involved a procession of statues from the church to the quay which were then loaded on to small fishing boats to be processed around to the fishing harbour, led by the town's pride and joy - the traditional white and red life boat, rowed by a crew of lusty - if somewhat elderly - men in check shirts and cloth caps.
From Alvor we moved on the few miles to Portimao marina for a 'pit stop' after a week and a half at anchor - proper showers, laundry, boat cleaning and provisioning. The marina was a complete contrast to Nazare in its soulless enormity (and extortionate cost). Portimao itself seemed a non-descript town, but the little fishing village of Ferragudo across the port was delightful and unexpectedly unspoilt. Our general impression of the Algarve has been of fabulous golden beaches with spectacular rocky outcrops, arches and stacks, backed by unfortunately huge and hideous high-rise resorts. We bypassed Albufueira and Vilamoura entirely, favouring quieter anchoring spots. Our next destination was paradise - otherwise known as Culatra. This is an island bounding part of the huge lagoon area starting at Faro continuing for 30 miles or so eastwards. It involved the same sort of approach as to Alvor - but on a much larger scale and with reliable buoyage. Once inside, the island of Culatra is idyllic, with its small fishing village of low concrete dwellings - divided by sandy tracks - no roads - and the most ethnic fishing harbour we have seen for a very long time - more like the Cape Verdes than Portugal. We spent a week in this idyllic spot - a holiday within a holiday - our time there marred only (but quite significantly) by the loss of our dinghy outboard motor. This happened during an afternoon of unusually strong winds (even for these parts) causing a very lively chop, exacerbated by the wash from a number of speed boats passing rather close which must have bounced the motor off its perch at the back of the dinghy. As soon as we realised it was no longer in its place we marked the spot - but being high water it was too deep to dive immediately. Early the next morning, at low water, Chris conducted a search with help from friends, diving and then dragging the seabed where we thought it must be. Unfortunately underwater visibility was very poor due to the powdery nature of the sand, and sadly we failed to find it.
It was difficult to decide on the next destination - all possibilities involved tidal entrances requiring specific timings of arrival (and then departure the following day) which were difficult to achieve, given that departure from Culatra was also governed by tide times. We finally settled on Mazagon, a small town at the mouth of the river leading to the port of Huelva nearly 60 miles to the east which at least had depth at all states of the tide. We left Culatra as early as feasible, following the channel out in a tide of up to 4 knots - hard to believe in the completely benign conditions - though we encountered very turbulent waters at the entrance. It was then a typical Portuguese day of two halves - no wind in the morning, and then a gradual built up during the afternoon, when we moved from cruising chute, main and mizzen sails, through various combinations, to genny and mizzen by the time we arrived at around 6.30pm - into the path of a strong outgoing tide. We spent the night anchored just outside the shipping channel behind the enormously long Juan Carlos I breakwater - a bleak but safe location.
Our final day at sea took us 32 miles east to Chipiona - situated at the mouth of the River Guadalquivir - in rather atypical weather. Contrary to the forecast of winds from behind - as usual - we found ourselves beating into grey seas under a slightly squally grey sky. This aberrant weather pattern stayed with us for the next couple of days, while we investigated the 50 mile passage up the river to Seville. Chipiona itself was a delightful little town - another domestic holiday resort - built in exuberant Andalucian style with courtyards and tiling reminiscent of Arabic architecture - and palm trees, bourgainvillia and hibiscus in great abundance.
The name of the River Guadalquivir derives from the Arabic al wadi-al-kabir - the great river - and its mouth and first 20-30 miles are wide meandering and shallow, making for concentrated navigation to keep within the relatively narrow channel. The channel is reasonably well buoyed and includes several sets of leading lights - commercial vessels use the river on a regular basis. We had been warned by the pilot book that the trip was "long, boring and tedious" - however, that was not our experience. We were kept quite busy with navigation for the first part passing a nature reserve on one side, salt pans on the other. There was abundant bird-life - flamingos, storks and their nests, herons - but human activity seemed confined to a few fisherman in strange craft with long arms spraying out from their sides - some covered with nets, looking like great sinister moths.
For the second half of the trip the river is narrow, which while making navigation more obvious, makes passing shipping rather more scary - we were passed by one ship in each direction - both scarily close. We finally arrived at Gelves marina - just as daylight was fading. Just 4 k from Seville this is an idiosyncratic little place and remarkably rural. The marina itself seems to be silting up with boats decamping to a long pontoon outside along the river bank - which is a truly lovely and tranquil place to be. We have spent the past few days - in tremendous heat - sorting out Aremiti for her winter sojourn in Gelves