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.


  1. Paddling ninety minutes??? Ouch ouch ouch!! To bad we aren't close by. I've got a 5lit. can of unused gas. I've hardly used my outboard at all this year. Probably because I've got it hidden in the v-berth so it wont get stolen off the rail.
    So, are kayaks so far out? Everyone is kayaking lately. Am I missing something?
    Fun story!...nice and hard! But I still can't stomach the way you leave Jakatar all alone sooo far away?!!?

    1. Don't keep that gasoline too loses its fizz and clogs the carburetor.
      A kayak is like a toy, you don't really need it, it's fun 2 or 3 times per year and you get your ass wet and it's tricky to get in and out without taking a dunking. If you don't have a boat ladder that goes right into the water forget it, you'll never get on dry...I mean, you can't step into it, you have to ease into it ass first with your feet below the water line.
      Now imagine that I read a news story about strong wind that piped up in Culatra and changed direction, and the police had to go out and rescue some boats. Called a friend who was there and he said a large sailboat dragged by his boat and Jakatar as though he wasn't even anchored. The second time I was there another sailboat dragged ever so happily through the anchorage. Luckily the owner showed up and re-anchored. Amazingly he didn't snag anybody's chain. That's why I anchor on the outer part, far from port. Don't lose a minute's sleep.