The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

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

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.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

First Leg: Peniche to Cascais

sailing in fog
Poor visibility, but I've seen worse.
On Sunday morning I woke up to fog so thick I could hardly see the port entrance. Large water drops fell from the soggy sail flaked on the boom ready to be hoisted. The lockers were stocked with sufficient food, the water tank half-filled, and I had enough diesel for 60 hours of motoring.

Out of frustration I washed the deck and cleaned the inside some, but not that much....a boat is a boat and shouldn't look like a clinic.

While sipping my mid-morning instant coffee I spotted a red sailboat, a Challenger called Jane, docking at the transient pontoon across from me. What!! I ran over and asked them if it was less foggy out on the water.

"No, we got caught in it while sailing from Porto," said a recently-retired-looking English woman. To which her husband added, "At one point I couldn't see the genoa. Our radar is ancient but it still works." They looked vaguely familiar, and Google proved me right.

It was less foggy the next morning. At 7 a.m. I pulled in the bow and stern lines and started doing the pivot-propwash manoeuvre. On passing by the Challenger's stern Jane's head popped out of the companionway. 

"We're leaving as soon as we finish breakfast. See you Cascais."

They never showed up.

Anchoring in Cascais
The Cascais anchorage fairly empty in July.
I motorsailed most of the way, even after the fog lifted. And for the first time in 14 years, instead of wind blasting down Sintra Mountain and across Cabo Raso, I motored around the cape with limp sails. 

After anchoring, I celebrated with a glass of red wine and spent the evening lying in the cockpit happy to be alone. Cascais is a beautiful town, and even more so when seen from the peaceful bay.