Sunday 28 October 2018


Sunday 7 October 2018 to Monday 8 October 2018

We stayed in Barbate for one night as we wanted to crack on and get into the Mediterranean as soon as possible and as there wasn't much to do near the marina other than go explore the mountains and we had plenty of them waiting for us round the corner, so we weren't tempted to stay longer than was necessary.

We had a leisurely dinner over a bottle of wine and discussed our plans for the next day.  This was the big one, the one that had tempted me to agree to my darling husbands madcap idea (my words, Mark's take is long term dream and carefully executed plan!) of leaving behind everything that I love and hold dear.  WE WERE GOING TO THE MEDITERRANEAN NEXT DAY,!

I think that on that evening we were both in awe of what we had achieved so far.  Two kids from working class backgrounds, retired early and having the adventure of a lifetime.  We had to pinch each other to make sure it was real and we weren't going to wake up with the alarm going off and have to get ready for work.  This was real, and if it all disappeared tomorrow we had some fantastic memories.

So, with routes planned, weather checked and a strategy for going through the Straights of Gibraltar in place we headed off to bed, like two excited children waiting for Father Christmas to arrive.

Friday 26 October 2018


Wednesday 3 October to Saturday 6 October 2018

After the journey we had, coming from Sines to southern Portugal, it was with relief that we headed in to Vilamoura.  We were both exhausted from the long night of screen watching and boat dodging in the fog and I was slightly disappointed that we had rounded Cape St Vincent in the fog as it was quite a momentous moment, it felt like being at the start of the home straight. Anyways, disappointment put aside, the sun was shining and boy was it hot!

Arriving at Vilamoura,  we moored at the waiting pontoon and I went to book us in and do the paperwork whilst Mark filled up with diesel.  That way we could leave at anytime and not wait for the fuelling station to open.

Boarding back on Offbeat with jobs done, we slipped our lines to head for our berth.  “Do you need help” the kind Marinero offered (it’s common practice for staff to catch your lines and help you into your berth). “No” says Mark who had already sussed that the pontoons were not stern to mooring, “we can manage”. Hmm, famous last words!

Off we motored to find our berth, passing all the superyachts along the way.  I could already feel my credit card melting!

We found our berth and Mark duly headed into it.  Hooray, it was a finger pontoon.  Boo, it was only half the length of the boat and tapered into a narrow point at the end.  Shit I thought, there was me dutifully waiting mid ship with my line, but I had to drop it and run to the bow before we crashed into the pontoon.

I managed to get the line round the front cleat but we were swinging around. Mark was trying to lasso the stern line over the cleat at the end of the finger pontoon and control the boat but wasn’t having much luck.  So, I jumped off the boat and onto the pontoon to go and retrieve the line and pass it over the cleat.  Not that simple.  The finger pontoon by the side of the boat tapered to about six inches.  For those that know me they will know that I would be freaked out by this – six inches of wood suspended in the air, surrounded by water and nothing to hold onto!  Only one thing for it, crawl to the end of the pontoon on my hands and knees muttering something about next time we take the bloody offer of help!

In the end we managed to get Offbeat securely tied up.  I’m sure to this day the Marineros were watching and having a bit of a laugh at the English people too proud to take help. Since then, we’ve taken up the offer every time.

We stayed in Vilamoura for a few days, mainly to catch our breath and relax. We didn't do much, other than stroll along the beach, walk around the marina and surrounding streets and go out for dinner.

The marina itself was lively and pleasant enough, a big sprawling marina about the same size as Ipswich waterfront, full of bars and restaurants with waiters and music trying to entice you in.  But, after the unspoilt charm of Sines, Vilamora was a bit too soulless for us. It's quite clearly a place to be seen at and have bragging rights about having a boat in the Algarve.  I dont think I've ever seen so many large motor boats and super yachts in one marina, but very few of them in use, although it's probably heaving in summer!

So, well stocked with food and water and with the weather forecast promising wind, we set sail on Saturday and headed towards Barbate, our last stop in the Atlantic ocean before heading into the Mediterranean.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Life gets easier: Vilamoura to Barbate

Saturday  October 6th to Sunday October 7th 2018

Well rested by our stay in Vilamoura, we made our plans to head back to Spain.  Our intention was to get through the Straits of Gibraltar by mid October and then find a place on the Costa Del Sol to spend the winter. The last big passage was going to be 24 hours across the Bay of Cadiz. We thought about visiting Cadiz itself but rejected that because it was a bit of a stretch from there to get past Gibraltar in a day and because we'd easily lose a few more days exploring Cadiz whereas we wanted to crack on towards the Costa. We found a well protected harbour positioned perfectly to help us get through the Straits and into the Mediterranean all in daylight. Barbate would be our destination.

We slipped our lines in Vilamoura shortly after midday and raised sail. We knew the wind was not going to be strong and would be pretty light after midnight. But I was optimistic that we could sail for most of the way, maybe with a little bit of help from the engine during the night.
goodbye Portugal (the vague blob on the horizon)

So, of course the wind dies in the middle of the afternoon and the engine has to go on to make any progress towards Spain.  I'm not one to complain but, you know, really...? Did the wind really have to just fizzle out? Are we really going to have to motor the next 100 miles? Don't I deserve to do at least one passage under sail, this being a sailing boat that I've taken special care to set up to sail as best she can, buying new sails and ropes and everything?  Apparantly the respective answers are yes, yes and no, get over yourself.

Whinge over.  To be honest, there's not much to say about this trip.  The wind came and went, we plodded on under a mixture of sail and engine for about 20 hours. We kept an eye on a couple of ships but they didn't come that close. We kept a look out for Dolphins and Whales but none showed up.  We watched three Coastguard or Naval vessels buzzing around, hoping to watch them catch smugglers, but they didn't. We fretted about fog but the visibility was clear enough to pick up lighthouses nearly 30 miles away.

Well it was until we got close to Cape Trafalgar. Now, I d been looking forward to closing on Cape Trafalgar: sailing the waters that Nelson's fleet did in October 1805;
Turner's 'The Battle of Trafalgar'
passing over the battle ground where the two fleets lined up and engaged; pondering on the excitement and terror, the smell of gunpowder and blood, the victory and the slaughter.  All utterly spoiled by a nasty little fogbank blanketing our destination, the harbour of Barbate. Everywhere else was perfectly clear. We could see the cranes and suspension bridge at Cadiz fifteen miles to the North. We could see ships approaching the Straits ten miles to the South. But our destination five miles to the East was shrouded in a thick white blanket of fog rolling down from the mountains around it. Fog. Oh great, we love fog. Nothing bad can happen when your heading towards a harbour that's busy with fishing boats, that is surrounded by cliffs, rocks, lobster pots and mile long Tuna nets AND YOU CANT SEE A BLOODY THING IN FRONT OF YOU! Yeah, I might have slightly lost the plot for a while out there. There might have been a lot more swearing involved too. A lot more. But once I'd vented, I did what any skipper has to do. Calmly assess the risks, the options and safest plan of action. Then remember that the booze is only available when we get ashore, so head in anyway.
Parker's 'The Terror of Trafalgar'
To the right Cape Trafalgar lighthouse
To the left, a fogbank sitting right over Barbate

We pressed on and noticed that the fog seemed to ebb and flow from the mountains.  We put the engine on at full speed and went for it as the harbour appeared, cliffs bathed in sunshine a few hundred metres to one side of us, fog creeping back in from the mountains on the other side.  We made it into the harbour before the fog returned, secured our lines, reported in to the marina and completed the customs form (something that you have to do when arriving in a new country), secured our lines and cracked open a bottle of wine to toast a thankfully uneventful passage.

Sanctuary at Sines

Saturday 29 September to Tuesday 2 October 2018

We didn't plan to go to Sines, but circumstances beyond our control took us to this beautiful little place of sanctuary.

As Mark has already explained, our engine failed en route from Lisbon to Lagos and Sines was our only port of refuge, so we limped in on a gloriously hot Saturday afternoon.

On the approach to Sines you dont get the best impression of this pretty little town.  On the right hand side the skyline is dominated by cranes that operate in the busy port adjacent to the marina and on the left hand side the skyline is dominated by tall cylinders from the oil refinery that operates on the other side of the port.  Throw in the cements work for good measure and you get the general picture.  But hey, we were glad to be entering the in daylight so we had no cause to complain.

Sines harbour and marina
To get to the marina you have to you have to navigate your way through the busy working port.  Thankfully it wasn't that busy on Saturday morning and we entered the harbour with no dramas which, given what we'd been through was a miracle.

We called the marina at Sines to see if they had a mooring available for a few nights (we both had our fingers crossed and I said a little prayer in my head).  "Yes" was the reply, "come in and choose a mooring wherever you like".  I think I could have wept with sheer relief, but instead I got the fenders and mooring lines out.

When we entered the marina we could not believe how pretty the town looked.  There was no sign of the ugly cranes or oil tanks that sat less than 1/2 mile away, they were all hidden behind the marina wall.

Sines town from marina entrance

We moored up and checked in, then had a very stiff drink.  I think we both deserved it after the previous 24 hours!

We stayed in Sines until Tuesday and during that time, in between Mark flushing and spraying the engine, we relaxed on the beach, explored the town and found a wonderful butchers and bakers.

Sines beach
Whilst Sines is a beautiful seaside resort, with a wonderful golden beach, it is totally unspoilt.  There are no high rise apartment blocks or hotels, just the locals going about there daily business, enjoying their local delights. 

Vasco de Gama
There is a bit of history to the town in that it was the birth place of Vasco de Gama and there is a monument to him in the town square. There is also Castelo de Sines, a medieval fortress built in the 15th century that now houses archaeology exhibitions.

Castelo de Sines

I'm not sure if it was because Sines was our port of refuge or because we both found peace and tranquillity in the town, but we had a very serious conversation about staying there for the winter as we both felt so at home.  In the end it was the thought of a cold, wet winter that forced our hand and made us slip our lines on Tuesday morning.

The Toughest Trip: Sines to Vilamoura

Tuesday 2 October to Wednesday 3 October 2018

After our engine failure off Sines, you'd think we deserved a bit of an easy passage the next time out, yeah?  No. I think it was the toughest sailing trip I've had in forty years of sailing.  But it had a very redemptive end, so don't worry, dear reader.

We planned another 24 hour passage; firstly 60 miles South to Cabo St Vincent, then
turn East for another 50 miles towards Faro, near the easternmost end of the Algarve. In order to arrive on the Algarve coast in daylight, we had to round Cabo St Vincent in the dark. Rounding headlands is something I prefer to do in daylight, but I prefer even more approaching harbours in daylight; headlands are generally high and well lit (Cabo St Vincent certainly is) but the coastline around Faro is low and has sandbanks and huge fishing nets off it.

I'd taken care to keep working on the engine's recovery from swallowing seawater; by the time we set out it had been 'flushed' 5 times by running the starter with the stop button held out and the decompressors on, had two oil changes and WD40 squirting into the air intake three times.  It was running well and, boy, did we need it.

We left Sines at ten in the morning. There was little to no wind, so we knew we were in for a long test of the engine. We had the sails up but the engine was doing most of the work keeping us moving forward. As night fell, it was still hot and just T-shirt weather.

As we approached Cabo St Vincent at around 11 pm Teresa noticed the horizon starting to get a bit blurry. I'd gone below to get a bit of sleep before we had to be alert rounding this notorious headland, so she woke me.  Then we heard the skipper of one cruise liner call up another on the VHF radio. ''What's the visibility like with you? cos its nearly zero where we are'' ''Same here, I'm afraid'' ''Oh well, hope you have a good watch mate, see you in Southampton''.  Bastards! how can they be that complacent?

By midnight fog had closed the visibility down to nearly zero. We could see a murky glow from Cabo St Vincent lighthouse and occasionally a shaft of light would penetrate through a break in the fog.  We edged our way nervously round, caught between a rock (the cliffs of the headland) and a hard place (the shipping lanes about 7 miles further to seaward, our senses stretched to try and spot any dangers out in the gloom.  At least we hadn't seen any fishing vessels for the last 30 miles and the AIS set seemed to indicate they were doing the sensible thing by staying in harbour.

We rounded Cabo de Sagres at 1a.m. in a break in the fog, helping us to reorientate ourselves to the Algarve coastline.  We also got a hefty whiff of new (to us) lands as the fragrance of cedar, cinnamon, sandalwood and pine overwhelmed our (admittedly deprived) senses. Coasts have only smelled of seaweed and ozone before; these much more exotic smells combined with the clear horizons lifted our morale. And then it was dashed within an hour with the fog returning as thick as ever.  And then the fishing boats started popping up on the AIS screen.

We then spent an incredibly anxious six hours dodging fishing boats and a couple of other yachts in the fog, staring into the AIS screen as much as into the fog, blowing our foghorn every couple of minutes and hearing no responses in return. None. No-one sounded their foghorn, even vessels that were within half a mile of us at some points.

By half five, the fog had broken up enough for Teresa to get some sleep after being on
watch for over eight hours in the most stressful conditions.  I was then privileged to witness a gorgeous sunrise. I was just getting some photos and a bit of video when I heard a familiar splash behind me.  I turned with the camera just in time to capture the Dolphins arriving.  Of course, our morale needed picking up, so they knew to answer the call.


At 9a.m. we had breakfast and discussed our options.  We worked out that we might not be able to get into Faro harbour until near nightfall (the pilot books and almanacs disagree on when you should enter this maze of tidal rivers and creeks) so chose to head for one of our ports of refuge: Vilamoura.  The sun shone, the wind blew fair, and we had champagne sailing conditions all the way to Vilamoura harbour, tying up at just past midday. 

Lisbon to Lagos Interrupted

Friday 27 September to Saturday 28 September 2018

After a fairly frenetic city break in Lisbon, we felt surprisingly energetic for our next big trip – 24 hours towards Lagos on the Algarve.  Note that ‘towards’. Its a term that mariners often use instead of ‘to....’  You should have a destination in mind, but writing ‘towards’ is a reminder that you might end up somewhere else. As we did. The other thing mariners do when planning passages like this one is identify ports of refuge – harbours and anchorages where you can pull into if something goes wrong. As it did.

We dropped our mooring lines at 2.30 in the afternoon, pulling into Belem for fuel (Belem is Lisbon’s gateway to the Atlantic Ocean and a place we’d visited a couple of days previously). We motored out of the harbour into a stiff breeze from the north, perfect for bombing down the coast under our twin Yankee jibs (see the Vigo-Lisbon post). Once we had passed the rock ledges of Areal de Bugio, and Fort Bugio itself standing guard to Lisbon Harbour two miles off the coast, we turned south and set our sails.

Our plan was to sail close to the first major headland – Cabo Espechel – in daylight  then out across open sea (very deep in parts – a mile deep within five miles of Cabo Espechel)  through the night, turning East at Cabo St Vincent the next morning and getting to Lagos in time for a late lunch.

We started well, bombing down the coast at 6 knots and more – a good speed for Offbeat.  We had to run the engine for half an hour as the wind died just in front of the high cliffs of Cabo Espechel, but resumed sailing as we passed it, soon having to reef the jibs down as the wind picked up, which helps slow the boat down and keep control of her steering.  As we passed into deep water with nothing in our way until Cabo St Vincent 80 miles away, I chose to get a bit of sleep while Teresa took charge of Offbeat (when sailing at night we take turns to rest or sleep for between 1 to 3 hours while the other keeps watch over the boat; an electronic autopilot often takes over the steering).

I wasn’t asleep very long when I woke with a shock as I heard Teresa trying to start the engine. The wind had dropped and so had our speed. But the engine wasn’t starting; it just made a quiet ‘clunk’.  I guessed that either the starter or battery was at fault, so put out more sail to get our speed up again.  I must admit that I was in a pretty sleep-befuddled state and couldn’t deal with the engine problem immediately.  But by midnight the wind was dropping further and the forecasts were for calms the next day and by 2 am our speed had dropped to 2 knots (roughly equivalent in miles per hour) so I had to do something about the engine.

The battery checked out OK, so I started checking the starter motor. A quick and easy check is to see if the starter motor turns when the engine decompressors are lifted, removing most of the load on the starter. As I did this I spotted lots of white smoke coming out of the air filter. And as I removed the air filter, water gushed out of it.  Oh no, water in the cylinders, a very serious problem that can easily damage an engine beyond any repair.

So there we were, in the dark, 15 miles out to sea with a broken engine and the wind dying on us and not forecast to come back for another 12 hours.  At least we were 15 miles from one of the ports of refuge that I’d identified in my plan – Sines (pronounced sort of like Sinch), which was the very last harbour that Offbeat could get into until Lagos, 75 miles away.  It was a straw, but we were grasping at it with both hands!

At speeds now of just over 1 knot Sines would take 12 hours to get to so we’d have to have patience and resilience to stick to it, or bucket loads of luck. Or a very good friend who knows a lot about diesel engines.

So at 7 o’clock UK time on a Saturday morning I sent a tentative message to my mate Mark. Who, cos he’s a bloody hero, replied within fifteen minutes. Within an hour and twenty minutes he’d talked me through identifying the problem, flushing out the water from the engine and squirting loads of WD40 into it, and getting it running again.

All via WhatsApp.

He’s lucky he was 1500 miles away cos I’d have kissed the bugger when the engine fired up and ran as though nothing had happened.  Oh, and we had the obligatory visit from some Dolphins during the engine repairs, its spooky how they know to lift your spirits when things are looking bleak!

We nursed the engine at a steady three and a half knots into Sines harbour, taking nearly three  hours, which seemed interminable until we remembered how long it would have taken under sail.

After a little break for some internal lubrication of our own, Mark talked me through the next four hours of oil changes and other action to preserve the engine from the sea water that had got inside.I also worked out how it had got there. During our passages down the Portuguese coast, the waves would have been following behind us.  Some of them would have splashed up the exhaust pipe; only a few drops at a time but the sea is relentless and those few drops added up to ten to twelve litres of water trapped in the exhaust system and then more water over-topping them to get into the engine. 

Offbeat has defences against this happening – a swan neck half a metre above the waterline before the exhaust outlet and a waterlock near to the engine exhaust outlet.  But they are clearly not enough in following seas, so I’ll be making improvements. I’ll also be draining the waterlock regularly just to keep an eye on the situation.

Enchanting Lisbon

Sunday 23 September to Friday 27 September 2018

Jo and Mark coming into Lisbon

When we arrived in Lisbon after 2 days at sea with difficult sailing conditions, we were greeted with some spectacular views that can only be appreciated from the river.

As we sailed up the river Tagus, the sun was shining and even though we were exhausted, we were exhilerated by the thought that we had achieved our goal of getting to Lisbon. 

The riverside architecture and the views of Lisbon rising up above us on the hills were a wonderful sight for us. The architecture along the waterfront is a mixture of old versus new and here are just a few of my highlights.

First there was the Belem Tower situated on a small island on the banks of the river Tagus.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site because of the significant role it played in the Portuguese maritime discoveries and was part of the defence system for Lisbon.

Belem Tower- medieval fortified tower 

Belem Tower

Next there was Padrao dos Descobrimentos otherwise known as the Monument to the Discoveries. Situated where ships would leave to explore and trade with India and the Orient, the Monument celebrates the Portuguese age of discovery during the 15th and 16th century.

Padrao dos Descobrimentos
Monument to the Discoveries
Monument to the Discoveries 

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology 
After this came the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. Sitting on the river bank like a giant clam, you had the feeling that it was watching everything and everybody as they went by.

The piece of architecture that stands out most though was the sight of the 25th April bridge and the Cristo Rei (monument of Christ the King), which are truly amazing.  Known as the Golden Gate of Lisbon, at 1.5 miles long and 200 feet above the water, it is the largest suspension bridge in Europe and dominates the horizon as you travel up the river.

25th April Bridge
The name of the bridge commemorates the
Carnation Revolution

Cristo Rei

As Mark said in a previous post, we moored at the marina in Doca de Alcantara but as we were celebrating Alma's birthday we ended up staying in the apartment that Jo and Dave had rented.  As much as I love my £1,000 bed on Offbeat, the luxury of sleeping in a double bed was bliss! 

It was lovely meeting up with Alma and Dave.  It made Mark and I realise just how much we do miss our families even though we're having the adventure of a lifetime.  Although it was going to be a short visit with our family, we were going to make the most of our time together with them.  So, in keeping with our tradition, Dave cooked us a delicious meal and the wine flowed! 

Next day, after celebrating Alma's birthday with a sumptuous breakfast of Portuguese pastries and plenty of coffee (thank you Jo and Dave), we headed off to explore Lisbon.  I am so glad Alma was with us as I was finally able to get Mark on one of the city tour buses, something he had point blank refused to do previously! 

With tickets booked for the city tour, we headed off to catch the bus.

I have to say that it was a bit of a bizarre bus route, which took us to motorways, derelict train stations and the airport.  Having said that though, there were some highlights and it was helpful to have commentary.  It also gave Mark and I a feeling for our bearings as we would be in Lisbon for a few days.

Old district of Lisbon 
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the oldest in western Europe, predating other modern European cities such as London, Paris and Rome. 

The oldest district of Lisbon is the Alfama. Once inhabitated by fishermen and the poor, it survived the 1755 earthquake with little damage and now attracts tourists with its labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares.

No trip to Lisbon would be complete without a trip on one of the famous yellow trams that take the less hardy person up the steep hills and narrow streets of the central city. Jo, Dave and I wanted to take a trip on one of the trams, but Mark and Alma didn't so they went off to find a cafe whilst we had the pleasure of being crammed onto a small tram.  In truth it wasn't too bad as the trams are used by local residents as well as being a major tourist attraction,  so the numbers soon thinned out. However, as we found out, you don't get to see any sights on the tram as the streets are too narrow, but what you do see is the look of sheer terror from tourists pressed up against brick walls hoping and praying they don't get squashed as w%e hurtle past on the tram!

Having ticked the box of riding a tram, we went in search of Mark and Alma as coffee was needed. I called Mark to find out where he was and he sent me a link via Google maps. Off we went to find them both, dutifully following Google maps and this is where I found him.  I did have to explain to him that it was his mum's birthday, not his!


Refreshed with coffee, we had a further wander around Lisbon and then caught the city tour bus back to the Parque de Naciones where we were all staying.  

The Park of Nations was the home to the 1998 World Exhibition and since then has become a home for cultural activities and contemporary architecture. 

As we strolled through the park and along the avenues, we got to appreciate some of the sculptures and architecture that continues to make this a popular area of Lisbon and highlight how diverse the city of Lisbon is.

In the evening, to celebrate Alma's birthday, we headed off to Butchers,  a steak restaurant close to the apartment.  Not for the faint hearted or vegetarian, this wasn't any ordinary steak restaurant, this was a real steak restaurant that displayed joints of beef in glass refrigerators as they matured before being prepared for use.

Teresa, Dave, Mark, Jo and
The birthday girl Alma
We had a wonderful meal, with lots of chatter and laughter and judging by the photos, I think Alma enjoyed her birthday.

Mark, Alma and Jo

The next day we said our goodbyes and headed back to Offbeat.  We hadn't spent long tidying her up when we arrived, so the day was spent doing chores and shopping.

We had decided to stay in Lisbon for a few days, mainly to recharge our batteries as it takes it out of you sailing for 48 hours. Mark was particularly feeling it as he'd had the responsibility of skippering us and navigating us and Offbeat through the fog and round the headlands. 

Whilst we were still in Lisbon, we took the opportunity to do a bit more sightseeing and have a night out at a Fado club.

Fado is the soulful Portuguese music that is expressive and melancholic. Generally in Fado music, the singer will sing about the hard realities of the daily life, balancing both resignation and hopefulness that a resolution to their torments will occur.

I was intrigued to find out more about Fado music as this was new to me, although Mark has been a fan for years and when we had met up with Marisa and Mike,  Marisa had been insistent that we track down a Fado bar and experience the music live for ourselves.

So, that's how we ended up in the Clube de Fado in a shady back street of the Alfama district of Lisbon. And what an experience it was. From the moment we walked along the cobbled street into the club it was like being transported back in time.  The setting was modelled on days gone by with red velour furniture, crisp white tablecloths, silver service and wine waiters.  The food and wine were exquisite and best of all we had a table at the front with a first class view of the performances.  The music and singing blew us away.  Never before had we seen so much passion go into the playing of an instrument and the singing of a song.  We didn't understand the words, but we understood the pain and joy of every word sung.  For me, that was evidence of real artists at work.  There was one song when the singer sang 'mentira, mentira, mentira'  with such venom that we had to look up the meaning.  It means 'liar, liar, liar' and boy did she mean it!  I could have quite easily have returned there every night we were in Lisbon but unfortunately time didn't permit.

Our last big sightseeing trip was on a beatiful sunny afternoon spent at Belem on the west side of Lisbon, which is home to a number of monuments including Belem Tower and the Monument of Discoveries. It is also home to a beautiful network of parks,eronimoes Monastery and the Maritime Museum.

Jardim da Praca behind the
Monument to the Discoveries

The Jardim da Praça do Império is one of Europe’s largest plazas.The grounds of the plaza sit behind the Monument to the Discoveries and are filled with decorative and symmetrical water gardens, with a grand fountain as the centrepiece.

Jeronimoes Monastery 

The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is an extravagant monastery that was funded by the tax levied on spices that flowed into Portugal. Originally designed as a modest monastery complex, the excessive trade wealth extended the construction by 50 years, to create one of the most ornate religious buildings of Portugal.

The site has a close connection to the early explorers, as Vasco da Gama spent his last night here before his epic voyage to India. Later the church was the location where sailors wife’s would come to pray for the safe return of their loved ones.

The photos don't really do justice to the beautiful masonary carvings that adorn the frontage of the monastery.  You cant help but wonder how many man hours went in to this work as they are truly spectacular.

Artefacts inside the Maritime Museum
Mark was particularly keen to visit The Museu da Marinha, which details Portugal's maritime history and is housed in the western end of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. Unfortunately photography isn't allowed in some parts of the museum so we don't have many photos but it was really interesting finding out about the maritime history of Portugal and the important part they played in discovering India and opening up trade in the Orient.

If I had to describe Lisbon in a word, it would be enchanting. The city is captivating,  charming and delightful.  There are so many facets to Lisbon that it bewitches you and leaves you wanting more, but unfortunately we had to move on so with a tinge of sadness we slipped our lines, headed out of Doca de Alcantara and back down the river Tagus, absorbing the views for one last time.

Monday 22 October 2018

Murky goings on between Vigo and Lisbon

Friday 21 September to Sunday 23 September 2018

Just after 3pm Teresa, my sister Jo and I slipped our lines at the Real Club Nautico de Vigo and headed down the ria towards the ocean. Our plan was to head about 10 miles offshore and then sail  down the Portuguese coast for 150
Cheer up Jo, its only 200 miles to go
miles dodge past the Islas Berlingas, go south a bit further then bowl into Lisbon about 48 hours after leaving Vigo, in time to meet my mum and my brother-in-law Dave.  Since the prevailing wind at this time of year is northerly – the Portuguese Trade wind – we rigged two foresails – twin Yankee jibs for the sailors among you – and poles sticking out from the mast to control them.

Reality, as we so often found on this voyage, often falls short of what the books and the weather forecasts promise.

When we passed Cabo Silliero at the mouth of the Ria de Vigo we found no wind, but a lumpy swell coming off the ocean which made Offbeat plunge up and down like a demented rocking horse.  We  plodded on under motor with me saying ‘’I expect we’ll get the wind once we’re clear of the land.  I’ll just get some sleep now so I’m fresh when we get offshore and it starts to get dark’’.  It turns out that I missed a great wildlife display, with Jo and Teresa watching Dolphins jumping, Gannets diving and young Turtles flapping around in that vaguely helpless way they seem to have.  When I woke at half past six, the swell had settled down, as it usually does once we are in deep water though the wind hadn’t shown up.
Sunset over a calm ocean.

As we turned south when night was falling we encountered one of the things that sailors hate most – the swell on the side of the boat making us roll first one way then another, without wind in the sails to resist it.  And then we encountered something that sailors hate even more – thick fog.  I had chosen a course that avoided the main shipping lanes 5 to 10 miles further offshore and the many fishing boats, nets and marker buoys closer inshore.  We spent the night anxiously peering into the murk and at our AIS screen – an electronic collision device.  We had to alter course a few times to avoid close encounters with cargo ships heading into Porto and Figuera on the Portuguese coast. Having my sister Jo with us on this trip was brilliant anyway, but having the extra pair of eyes and quick mind while ploughing on anxiously was a double blessing.

A light northerly wind turned up during the night, so we got the sails up but needed the motor to keep up anywhere near enough speed to get to Lisbon on the Sunday. At least having sails up steadied the rolling of the boat.  It is also supposed to make the boat more visible to other vessels, but with visibility down to less than a quarter of a mile, I’m not sure it would be of much help.

One little highlight during the night was a visit from a couple of Dolphins, their bodies etched out in phosphorescence. If you haven’t come across phosphorescence at sea yet, its a really peculiar phenomenon.  You know how some watch faces have numbers that glow in the dark? Well that’s phosphorescence and its a trick that tiny sea creatures evolved eons ago.  They glow in the dark in response to disturbances such as movement in the water, looking like a thousand tiny suddenly sparkling in the water.  And that movement includes Offbeat splashing through a wave and Dolphins swimming; its a really amazing thing to see.  But impossible to photograph, so you’ll have to use your imagination!

Dawn broke damp and foggy and I started to make plans to head for Nazarre - a port on the Portuguese coast - rather than risk tackling passing the rocks of the Islas Berlingas in the fog.  I was also starting to worry that we wouldn’t
have enough fuel to motor all the way to Lisbon; Offbeat only carries enough fuel for 48 hours at fairly low speed and we’d been pressing on a bit faster during the night to stand a chance of making Lisbon at a reasonable time. Adding to my worries was a couple of strange incidents. So, we are 15 miles off shore and in thick fog – a long way from any hope of rescue – and listening to the VHF radio to help work out where the ships are when a creepy voice comes out of the loudspeaker ‘’I can’t see you, but I can smell you’’. He repeats it a few time over the next half hour, weirding not just us out, but the officers on some of the ships out there too. They respond in a mixture of English and (I think) Bengali which just eggs him on. We work out he’s just some racist t**t taunting the crews of Asian-run ships.  But for a while I regretted every horror film I ever watched.  The strangeness was compounded by coming across isolated fishing marker buoys. Now we are 15 miles from shore and the water is over a kilometer deep. I’m pretty sure the only fishing out here will be trawling.  But we are close to the shipping lanes and I’ve read of bales of cocaine being chucked off ships with a marker buoy and a tracking device, to be picked up by smugglers in high powered speedboats.  And the pilot guides and charts warn that you have to report any suspicious activity to the authorities.  But I’m not going to be broadcasting that I suspect a drug drop and here’s my position. Cos the bad guys listen to the same radio channels, too, and we know what happens to snitches.  Now I’m regretting every drugs crime film I’ve ever watched!

It wasn’t until one in the afternoon that the wind picked up enough to sail at over 5 knots (roughly equivalent to 5 miles per hour for you landlubbers, a respectable speed for a sailing boat like Offbeat). By half past three the fog
cleared – gosh that had been a long and stressful eighteen hours. As though to celebrate our relief at being able to see what was going on around us, we were treated to the best Dolphin display of our voyage so far; 30 minutes of Dolphins jumping, spinning, swimming under the boat, swimming alongside the boat, swimming upside down, surfing in the bow wave and generally arsing about and washing away the anxieties of the night. Shortly after that, we had a discussion about pressing on to Lisbon or pulling in at Nazarre.  We all felt fine – we had all been taking 1-3 hour breaks to get some sleep – the wind was perfect, the visibility was good, Offbeat was looking after us well and, hey, the Dolphins had given us their blessing.  Lisbon it was.

The night remained clear and the wind pushed us quickly down the coast. In
Twin Yankee jibs reefed (top)
and fully set (bottom)
fact a little too quickly and by mid morning it was up to Force 6 and our sails were down to their smallest size (3rd reef for the sailors among you and still doing 6kn through the water our twin Yankees roll up on the furling gear, making them incredibly flexible for running downwind. Much easier to manage than a mainsail).
As we approached Cabo de Roca – our waypoint for approaching Lisbon – fog rolled down from the mountain. We all had a ‘oh, what, not again, not now’
moment, but luckily the fog stuck to the land and we sighted first Cascais and then Lisbon itself after an epic 45 hours at sea.

It still took us one and a half hours to motor through Lisbon and moor up at Doca de Alcantara, right in the centre of the city. And another couple of hours to tidy up the boat, do the paperwork for the marina and customs, get a taxi and then track down the apartment that Jo and Dave had rented, and celebrate her birthday with my mum.  But the joys of Lisbon are for another blog entry.

Sunday 14 October 2018

Picturesque Porto

Wednesday 12 September to Thursday 13 September 2018

We had always planned to stop at Porto en route to southern Spain, but when the chance came up to coincide our visit at the same time that our friends Mike and Marisa were there, it was an opportunity to good to miss. 

So, even though we were still in northern Spain, we planned our visit using public transport. It was really easy too, we just had to get to Combarro and catch the bus to Pontevedra. From there, catch a connecting bus that took us directly into Porto city centre. And, it was only €25 euros each for a return ticket. Boy could we learn a thing or two about public transport. Considering Combarro is a small fishing village, to be able to get from there to Portugal in 3 1/2 hours was a bit mind blowing. 

With coach tickets and accomodation booked, we headed off to Porto and wow, what a time we had.

Firstly, the bus journey was amazing.  Our route took us in and out of the Rias, so we got to see much more of Ria Pontevedra and Ria Vigo than we could have ever seen had we gone by boat.  Going through the little villages seeing people go about their daily business was fascinating (people watching at its best!) and the scenery was stunning.  Even when we got out onto the motorway the scenery was breathtaking, particularly going through the mountains and over bridges that connected one hill to the next. The 3 1/2 hours flew by.

Mike and Marisa met us off the bus and our induction into Portugese life started.  So much to see and do with so little time, where to start. I know, with two men with healthy appetites, it had to be food and drink so we headed off to a cafe nearby.

To say the Portugese have healthy appetites would be an understatement .We ordered what I thought would be light lunches, but all meals are served with rice and chips. That's not either/or, that's both! There was so much food on the table that even the men were defeated. We also had our first introduction to Vinho Verde (green wine) which is a speciality of Portugal.

Vinho Verde is not a grape variety, but the name of the area producing the wine. The name literally means green wine, but translates as young wine as the wine is usually released within 3 to 6 months of the grapes being harvested.  And it's not green! It comes in red, white or rose and has a slight fizz to it and is quite addictive.

Having been fed and watered, we headed off for our tour of Porto.

Ever since we first met Marisa, she has been passionate about Portugal and her home city of Porto and after spending a couple of days in the city, we could see why.  She was an excellent tour guide and took us to places that showed off the city at its best.

We visited churches with frontages adorned with beautiful blue mosaic tiles and the Sao Bento train station which has amazing murals made out of the blue tiles.  

Santo Ildefonso Church
Porto Cathedral, Santo Ildefonso Church, Clerigos Tower, Sao Bento Train Station
The blue tiles are one of the most emblematic representations of Porto's history and culture. Originally imported from Spain during the 15th century, the Azulejo tiles can be seen all over the city.

One of the best examples of how the Azulejo tiles were used to tell stories is in the Sao Bento train station where the main hall is covered in over 20,000 Azujelo tiles.  Created by Jorge Colaco, the tiles tell a story of important moments in Portugese history.

Sao Bento Train Station

From there we walked through pretty little narrow streets in Ribeira, with houses painted in an array of different colours. At times it was like we had been transported back to a different era. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, Ribeira is gradually being restored to the grandeur it once had as an important shipping port.

Narrow streets and Ribeira rooftops

We climbed up steep hills and stone stairs through narrow alleyways so that we had the best views of the Ribeira with its teraccota tiled rooftops and the river Douro. As we were lucky to have glorious sunshine, the views showed Porto at its finest.

One of the must do things when visiting Porto is to take a walk on the southern side of Porto known as the Vila Nova de Gaia.  On the main frontage overlooking the river Douro are the port houses and the best views of the old houses of Ribeira that adorn the waterfront.

River Douro and the Rabelo boats

View from Dom Luis I bridge

Established in the 17th century, Port received its name after Porto where it was brought to market and shipped for export to other countries. It was mainly transported to Porto on Rabelo boats which are flat bottomed boats, necessary for navigating the fast flowing waters of the upper Douro.  Examples of these boats exist today along the river Douro, with each port house having a replica bearing their name.

Whilst we were in Porto, we saw first hand the emergence of fog, slowly creeping up the river Douro. We had heard many stories about how the fog can linger for days at a time on the Portugese coastline and be the curse of many a sailor and ship so to see it happening in front of us was quite something especially as there was a yacht race taking place at the same time!

Fog creeping up the Douro

No visit to Porto would be complete without mentioning the bridges. Porto has 6 bridges, with the most famous being the Dom Luis I bridge.  Built in 1886, it connects Porto city with Vila Nova de Gaia.  It has two levels, an upper level for light rail and pedestrians and a lower level for general traffic and pedestrians.  I declined walking across the upper level, even though I knew the views would have been amazing I don't think my vertigo would have agreed, so I settled for a nice stroll across the lower level.

Porto Bridges
The lower level is also where local children and teenagers follow a long tradition of jumping off the bridge into the river Douro.  Watching this for the first time was literally heart stopping, wondering if they had made it safely.  The cheering and applause from the spectators (mainly tourists) smoothed my worried brow!

Marisa took us out in the evening to a restaurant owned by a friend she went to university with. It was absolutely wonderful and gave us an insight into Portugese living.  The hospitality and food was excellent (and so much of it) and we enjoyed more Vinho Verde. 

Whilst in Porto, we stayed at the Red Cross hostel.  Mark had booked the accomodation and initially I was very sceptical.  I'm to old to share a room with a bunch of back packers and had muttered something about finding a decent hotel if necessary.  However, I was completely gobsmacked when we arrived and were shown to a huge double room with built in wardrobes, dressing table and chair and all the other luxuries you would find in a good hotel. And it was 32 euros, although we did leave a donation to the charity as well. 

Not bad for €32
Mark and I both fell in love with Porto and wished that we had more time to explore further, so it's definitely on the list of places to revisit (maybe for Mike and Marisa's wedding!).

It's hard to describe the sensory stimulation we experienced in Porto but if you close your eyes and imagine the sound of a city, the contrasting shapes of narrow streets and open plazas, the colours of a paint box and the smell of good food cooking that's what Porto is like.