The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sailing Home Blues

I bought a bus ticket back to Olhão where a water taxi (25 euros) ferried me back at break-neck speed to Jakatar, anchored just as I had left it, except for some new neighbors.

fishing boat converted into a trawler

traditional Portuguese fishing boat used for recreational purposes
I had planned on going ashore to Culatra for a cold beer. Instead, I was struck by an attack of laziness and a deep desire to basically stare at my toes - again. I brought the mat and pillows into the cockpit and thoroughly enjoyed doing nothing and thinking nothing, to the extent that I couldn't even be bothered to get a second glass of wine.
Early the next morning I raised anchor to a weird surprise (I never take pictures of weird or exciting stuff because I'm an amateur blogger). Anyway, with no wind and no tide the chain came in fairly easy until the chain was totally vertical. Then it wouldn't budge an inch.

"It's really buried" I muttered to myself, switching the handle to the low gear on the windlass. Had do do some grunting to break it free and get it up ever so slowly. Then I saw a huge mass of weed thick as a tree break the surface.

The huge blob on my chain was way too thick to hump over the bow roller. I leaned over the bow with a serrated knife and started hacking at the weed that, as I quickly discovered, was concealing a big tangle of nylon lines.

Hell, I could hardly see the anchor. I started cutting like crazy, pulling in the chain as I cleaned it and occasionally checking whether I was drifting onto nearby boats, finding it strange that I remained in the exact same spot. When I finally reached the anchor, I could see that it had impaled a lobster pot attached to more taught lines still stuck on the bottom. I dispatched the remaining tangle in a samurai slashing frenzy, stood up sweaty and took a deep breath. I felt like the winning gladiator, like I had just battled with the devil and won, like I'd had an exciting adventure to start the day...Alive in the middle of a calm lagoon on glorious sunny day! And nobody to film it and upload it to Youtube.

The Kobra anchor had held through some strong wind, and now I wasn't sure if it was because it had been held by all this crap or because it's a good anchor. Who knows.

After this sweaty workout I motorsailed to Alvor, with a quick stop at the Albufeira marina for diesel and water. I stayed two nights in Alvor's outer anchorage but could have easily stayed for a whole year, at least.

Outer anchorage in Alvor

The weather was perfect, Alvor was nearly perfect, and 2 nights just didn't feel like enough. 

Then I sailed (using the sails only) to the port of Sagres. I left after lunch and arrived nearly at sunset. The wind in port picked up and I was debating on whether to go ashore when a young bearded guy came by in a skiff. 
"Are you staying the night?"
"Where's your anchor?"
"About 30 meters that way."
"Obrigado. I'm putting out a line of hooks for the night."
He barely finished talking when he threw the first buoy overboard, about 10 m from Jakatar. I shouted that it was too close, but he never looked back, just kept going, laying out the line. It was a hell of a long line, at least all the way to Martinhal beach where I lost sight of his stern light. 

So I'm sitting there thinking, "fuck, shit and damn, what an idiot! If the wind veers east a bit, I'll have the line and buoy under me tomorrow when I want to leave. As I'm staring at the buoy, a trawler roars out of port at full throttle straight for me, which was the wrong direction for him, turns at the last second, leaving such a huge wake the dinghy nearly flew into the cockpit. What the fuck, has everybody gone crazy around here? Lost my appetite for going ashore.

Still dark the next morning I get up and can't see the fishing buoy anymore. Feeling a bit paranoid that it might be under the boat or caught in the propeller, I spun the propeller shaft by hand for a long time (advantage of having a Duramax shaft seal)...but it kept spinning freely. So I raised anchor and left in the semi-darkness, eyes peeled for the minefield of buoys near port, ready for the long trip to Sines against wind and waves.

Going by the beach anchorage, I started hearing the Cape Vicente lighthouse foghorn, even though there's not a wisp of fog to been seen. But sure enough, on the north side of the cape I motored into a blanket of fog that later kept alternating between bad and worse for hours on end.

Much later, when the fog cleared up, my long-time rich neighbor from Culatra, who must have been anchored in front of the beach, passed me, but not too fast, and I was barely doing about 5 knots.

Arrived in Sines at sunset and anchored near the  rich guy's boat again. Stayed for two nights, ate at Adega de Sines for lunch and dinner (8 euros per meal including a jar of wine), took long showers (you can check in at the marina office when anchored, pay half price and get a card to use the facilities).

Also got up early for the trip to Cascais and, fuck a duck, my rich neighbor passed me again with much waving by me and his wife and barely a nod from him. Maybe he doesn't trust his wife around handsome solo sailors!!!!! Cough, cough.

Anchored in the bay of Cascais, this time far from the rich guy so his wife couldn't get a good view of me. 

I was already feeling the "going home blues" so I decided (or rather, invented an excuse) that the conditions weren't very favorable for leaving the next day. Stayed 2 nights in Cascais, went for long walks, had lunch on the promenade and pretended not to stare at women on the beach.

Cascais anchorage

The anchorage in Cascais seen from the very long promenade. Jakatar is somewhere in the middle near the marina entrance, where I park the dinghy behind the fuel dock - not supposed to do it, but I haven't been arrested yet.

Had an uneventful sail (motoring and motorsailing) to Peniche on the last day, except for one thing I had never done before: at lunch time, near Ericeira where the water is another minefield of buoys, I stopped the engine sailed at 1 knot toward the Azores while I leisurely made lunch, ate it and had a coffee without a care in the world.

Now I'm home, one summer older and still working. That wasn't the original plan.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Kayak Adventure in Culatra

I was lying in the shady cockpit in Culatra staring at my toes and pondering my main problem: I had ran out of gasoline for the dinghy outboard. 

Rowing the dinghy 400 m ashore during the day is easy. At night, however, water taxis and local boats continue to roar across the anchorage at full speed. How they don't splatter themselves against any of the poorly lit boats scattered in front of the fishing port is a mystery.

Rowing through a crowded anchorage in the dark is not easy, especially with a tidal current. When rowing, you're looking at where you came from and not where you're going, except for the occasional glance over your shoulder. At 400, 300 or 200 meters all the anchor lights look the same and you end up rowing around in circles with a strobe light in your mouth hoping the flying taxis will see it.
There's no gasoline on the island of Culatra, you're not allowed to carry it on the Olhão ferry and, by the way, gasoline emits a strong nauseous smell in 35º C weather. Even if I managed to sneak by the gateman with the jerrycan in a bag, one or all the ferry passengers would surely sniff me out and blow the whistle.

I had no choice but to break out the kayak early in the morning before the wind picked up. The bummer was that the tide was really low and I had to take the long route along the channel. After ninety minutes of paddling like mad, my shoulders getting really stiff, I reached the Olhão marina where I did my business at the marina fuel pump without getting off my sore ass. 

The fun happened on the way back.

On the way back I spotted a channel leading into the sand flats. My arms and back begged me to take the short way home, so I did. I asked an old man digging for clams on the bank if the channel went all the way across.

"Are you training for the gold medal?" he asked grinning looking down at me.

I stared at him dumbly until I remembered that the Portuguese rowing team was doing well in the Olympics. "No, I'm just exploring."

"It's better you wait until the tide comes up. This channel turns into a ditch of shallow water up ahead," he smirked some more, "and you'll be dragging your boat all the way across."

"Obrigado e bom dia," I said and continued paddling. All I needed was 10 inches of water.

I paddled on looking at herons and other birds feeding on the exposed marine life, a shapely skimpily dressed young woman clamming, and then I hit bottom.

And like the old man had warned, I dragged the kayak a long, long way to the other side, greeting suspicious or shy clammers along the way and happy that that's how it turned out. If I wanted it easy, I'd have stayed home. 

This was my rich neighbor anchored even farther out than me.

And this is the view between me and Culatra Island. Notice the Amel with a German flag in the center of the picture. Every time I dinghied by, two people would wave like crazy, and I would wave back a bit bewildered. I finally ran into them (older lady and her son) at the dinghy dock and it turns out I had met him in Nazaré while working on Jakatar in the yard. They had spent the winter in the marina of Nazaré.

Went ashore to the Olhão bus station to buy a bus ticket back home.
Walking along the waterfront I saw the most original anchoring job ever! That anchor is not going anywhere unless somebody steals it.
I took the bus home for some more translations and to handle the tourist check-ins and check-outs at the apartments while Ana went north to visit her family. I trusted 40 m of chain and a 25 kg Kobra anchor to take care of Jakatar while I was away.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Sines to Alvor

At 6:00 I cranked the Tigress manual windlass until the 25 kg Kobra anchor clanked loudly onto the bow roller. Tied the anchor down and motored out on a clear calm day.

What looked like a 36-foot sailboat was about 500 metres in front of me headed toward the anchored ships. Although I was motoring at only about 5.5 knots, Jakatar slowly gained on it and then passed it. 

After that he began tailing me. About 45 minutes later, I turned into the wind to raise the main and stay sails and he did the same, except for a staysail which he didn't have. When I unfurled the genoa and shut down the engine, he did that too (I'm assuming he also cut the engine).

Against all logical odds, he tailed me all the way to Cape St. Vincent, always within less than a mile, sometimes coming very close. He must have been solo too because I never saw more than one person in the cockpit. A couple of hours later another sailboat popped out of nowhere and joined the party for a long time. Strange but fun!

Sailing to the Algarve
The boat on the left tailed me for 55 miles, from Sines to Cape St. Vincent. The boat on the right stuck with us for nearly half of the trip.
It's a one-in-a-million shot that a sailboat could tail another one for 55 miles without either using the engine or slowing down on purpose. But it happened. 

In late afternoon, about 10 miles from the cape the wind rotated from NW to N, the ocean got rougher, and the genoa started the "empty-fill-bang" routine, which drives me nuts. After furling the genoa and dropping the staysail, I eased the main to the spreaders and ran for it all the way past the cape, almost dead downwind with a preventer set up, of course. 

I could see the familiar wind-whipped whitecaps ahead, but I wasn't too enthusiastic about reefing right about now, which required turning 180º into the wind and lumpy waves.

I kept sailing southeast instead. That would take me into stronger wind but calmer waters sheltered by the cape where I planned to reef and raise the staysail again. 

So much for the plan, I just kept going SE, farther from land. As I gradually turned east toward my destination, the boat took the wind on the beam, healed over, dug its bow into the water, wanting to turn into the wind, stubbornly refusing to respond to the rudder.

(The boat that was tailing me, kept going south and disappeared, either going to Madeira or giving this area a very wide berth, who knows.)

Lobster pots were popping up in my path and I was getting nervous, not having much control and with visions of snagging a line on the prop or rudder skeg doing 6.5 knots and out of control. 

Then I raised the staysail with surprising ease and my speed shot up to over 7 knots.

I was having a riot flying along dodging pots until a crazy little wave smacked the hull, shot up and soaked me while I was answering the phone. One boarding wave, one phone call, and they happened at the exact same time. The  phone survived.

It's 20 miles from Sagres to Alvor, the sun was sinking quick, I was wet and soon began to shiver. Punched the auto button, dove below, grabbed a coat and a couple energy bars and I was good again.

Then it's getting dark and I have to dive below again to switch on the running lights. The wind isn't letting up like it should near Lagos and I've had enough excitement for one day. By the time I round the Lagos headland and head for the Alvor entrance, it's really dark and I know this place is a minefield of pots.

I sail on a close haul right up close to the pitch black Alvor entrance, turn into the wind and drop sails without a hitch, and slowly motor in between the two long rocky sea walls. It's too dark to go all the way into town so I anchor where the channel opens up into the lagoon in the company of two other boats. It's been a 16-hour trip and I'm floored, but feeling very much alive.

I woke up to a beautiful calm morning with an urge to dinghy into Alvor, the town, before sailing toward Culatra.

Alvor anchorage
Alvor anchorage on a peaceful morning.
Alvor marina
The local Alvor marina for small craft.
Alvor waterfront
Felt good to walk on land after spending over 3 days on the boat.
Possibly one of the most photographed dogs in the world. He spends most of the day like this watching the crowds walk by. He was here last year, exactly in the same position.

I walked around town looking at straw hats, got hungry and had an ice-cream, thought about eating grilled sardines but changed my mind when the wind picked up.
Kite surfing in Alvor
By the time I finished lunch on the boat, the wind began to blow hard, as you can see by the whitecaps in the anchorage, I lost my enthusiasm for removing the outboard, stowing the dinghy and raising anchor. Screw schedules.
But later I wish I had gone. It blew hard all afternoon and night, too windy to dinghy into town. I spent the day watching kite surfers and strengthening the damaged stern rail. 
The pipe holding the ladder is severely cracked. I cut some wood pieces to hold it up and inboard. In any case, I started using the fender step at midships to hop on and off the boat. It works quite well, just like at the marina. I can stand up in the dinghy and place the outboard flat on deck and hop aboard quite easily, better than climbing the ladder with one hand and precariously holding the outboard by the tips of my fingers. In 16 years I never considered this option. Sometimes I'm so dumb, it's hard to believe. So now my ladder is an ornamental piece except when swimming, can't use the fender step to pull myself out of the water.

The next day, instead of the usual calm morning, it was still blowing hard, so I did what I should have done the day before and sailed for Culatra in one fast tack.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sailing from Cascais to Sines

Slept like a man with no worries in life and motored out of Cascais at daybreak feeling more relaxed and alive. The first day on a cruise is always a bit tense; on the second day it's the only thing that makes sense.

Sail looks strange from this perspective.
I motorsailed for a couple of hours over a calm sea. Then I felt the sun and the wind on my face, unrolled the genoa, shut the engine down, and sailed past Cape Espichel all the way to Sines. A glorious lazy day. 

Saw a small shark, for the first time ever, swimming along the surface, which I initially mistook for a small dolphin. Good thing I didn't have to dive in and cut any lobster trap lines fouling the prop this year. I realise it was harmless, but I get very negative vibes from sharks, bears, pitbulls and any femme fatale with a desperate look in her eyes. In other words, I don't like being potential prey.

storing cabbage on a sailboat
I froze six 1.5 litre water bottles that kept the big icebox cool for a week. I tried red cabbage and cured cheese this year and it paid off because they held up well, especially the cabbage which I ate either cooked or raw. I'm making an effort to keep canned food to a minimum.
Fortunately nothing exciting happened. Disasters are good for movies and books, but at this point I'd rather tell stories about my previous misfortunes than experience new ones.

I reached the large port as the sun began to set, anchored in front of the Sines beach and had another night of star gazing and wine sipping, with a big cup of tea at the end to balance it all out.

Anchoring in Sines
See that blue light in the middle. That's a stage where a band played very loud "pimba" music until late at night. 
Stayed aboard again. It would have been fun to eat dinner at the Sines Tavern, but it was just too late and too much hassle to pump up the dinghy, launch it, check in at the marina, get a gate card (the marina is the only place to leave the dinghy), shower, change into respectable attire and walk up the hill into the old part of that time they wouldn't be serving dinner anymore.

This is a really boring solo trip for readers but it's gonna get a little bit better.