Saturday, 29 September 2012

Ria Formosa

Ria Formosa & Ilha Culatra

We had been advised that this was a beautiful spot to anchor and we were not disappointed.

The island of Culatra has no cars only a few tractors, protected sand dunes, and unspoilt beaches.
Oh,I forgot to mention, dozens of fishermen.
 The island community makes it’s living from fishing and harvesting clams from the sand banks. The clam fishing is a major industry; dozens of people can be seen at low water digging away.
Clam diggers
There are a couple of well stocked mini markets and numerous cafĂ©’s and "restaurants" on the island.
Many of the islanders live in colourful cottages on the beach front (reminiscent of the fishermens cottages at Arniston in the Cape- for the ZA followers). Until recently the island had been forgotten by the district council  of which they were part. All the islanders refused to vote in the local elections until they were given the same rights and privileges as those on the mainland. The result was a new school, library, post office, council offices, street names, medical centre and a regular ferry service to the mainland.
Access to this watery paradise is through a narrow channel. The tides run hard in the entrance and can be as much as 7kts at springs! We arrived on the flood about 2 hrs. before HW. The sea was boiling in the entrance creating whirlpools and fierce eddies. We shot through with more than 5kts of tide with us, seeing more than 10kts over the ground! The deep water in the channel soon gave way to a calm shallow lagoon with many small bays. Pick your spot to drop the hook.


We anchored close to the small fishing harbour off the main village and enjoyed the scenic location.
At low water there were abundant wading birds including whimbrels, oyster catchers, Kentish plovers and the Storks. They all seemed to mingle quite happily with the clam diggers. We could watch all this from the comfort of the cockpit as well as the fishermen coming and going, sometimes fishing and laying pots amongst the anchored boats. Early one morning a fisherman was laying his net right behind us and Richard shooed him away as he was too close.
Stork in the Lagoon
The Island Boatyard
Low Tide, note the storks wading amongst the boats.
On our visit to the town of Olhao (a 30min ferry ride from Culatra for €1.80) we saw storks’ nests in the town. Olhao is a non- touristy town, but has a nice waterfront with shady gardens and well renowned produce and fish markets.
Olhao town
Storks nest in Olhao
How to get your SCUBA kit home

On the island we walked along the “streets”- concrete blocks laid as walkways- looking at all the little houses some decorated in whimsical ways, coloured tiles , shells, paint, and frescos. They all had gardens, with a few trees amazingly growing in the sea sand. We saw Figs, Peach, Orange, Lemon, Loquat, Syringa, Oleander and Hibiscus among others. At one house a man sat on the floor of his tiny verandah making a fishing net using both hands and his toes.
Ferol village and lighthouse at the entrance to the lagoon.
There were boats from 10 different nations in the anchorage, the most we counted on one morning was 29 boats, but even then it was not at all crowded.
Skipper chilling out!

After a week just chilling out we needed to get back to civilisation, being in need of gas, petrol for the outboard, water, replenishment of stores and of course a laundry. The wind had been blowing from the direction we wanted to go in for some days, but we decided to make a dash for the marina at Vilamoura. This was the closest marina to the west of Faro. We didn’t want to go further east as we would have to come back again to go to Madeira. We also wanted easy shopping as we had to provision for 4 days at sea.  The exit was uneventful, however after 5 hours beating to windward against the wind and waves we were glad to get in.  However, this feeling did not last for long.
Dark skies over Vilamoura

I can honestly say that Vilamoura had nothing to recommend it. Our problems started from the moment we checked in and were allocated a berth too small for us to fit into! We then spent all the following morning trying to buy tokens at the Laundromat but there was no one there. We later discovered that we could have got these from reception when we booked in (if only they had told us)! Our laundry was finally washed at 16.00; we had first tried to use the laundry at 09.00! This resulted in a second night in the Algarve’s most expensive and over rated marina. To add insult to injury the Wi-Fi was pathetic (we went to McDonalds to catch up on e-mails) and we were charged for a 32 Amp plug adaptor to connect to the shore power so we couldn’t wait to leave. 5 star prices but 5 star this place is not.

The short beam reach from Vilamoura to Albufeira restored our spirits even though it was trying to rain for most of the time. In spite of the rain we were still in shorts! We saw a few swallows flying south, reminding us that autumn is on its way. Time for us to head south too.
The cheerful reception staff and tranquil atmosphere has put us in a much better mood for our passage to Madeira. Final shopping at the Continente supermarket and improving weather should have us southbound on Sunday 30th September. The supermarket was really good, but it is the first time I have ever seen whole suckling pigs shrinkwrapped.

One thing I have really enjoyed about Portugal is the flora. A lot of the plants are ones we grew in the Lowveld  like Hibiscus, Oleander, Strelizia, Jacaranda and Delicious Monsters. Quite a few are indigenous to South Africa- Agapanthus, Namaqualand daisies, Aloe Vera, Plumbago and I have seen Hottentots Beddegoed – an aromatic low growing silvery leafed shrub the ancients in ZA used to collect for bedding. Some of the plants carefully cultivated here such as Lantana and Syringa are declared noxious weeds in ZA which is rather funny.
Leonotis, a wild flower in the Lowveld, but much more luxuriant in Vilamoura garden.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


 Albufeira Tuesday 4th September

We upped anchor from Portimao at 0820 and set off in an easterly F2 so motorsailing was the order of the day. At least that gave us plenty of time to admire the spectacular cliffs and stacks again. The entrance was very easy to find and we went into the outer fishing harbour before doing the warps and fenders as it was quite swelly round the corner.
Marina entrance

Albufeira Marina is an old quarry, so the entrance is very narrow with high sides. We tied up on the holding pontoon without too much difficulty despite having the wind and tide behind us. At least the pontoon was flat. Later we saw it rolling and bucking when the swell was coming into the entrance and were glad we had not had to contend with that as well. Once inside it is completely sheltered, even from a lot of the wind. Some really hot days we wished it was a little less so!

As you go in you think you have arrived in Toytown. Two sides of the marina are overlooked by flats of an unusual design, almost cubist, painted in pastels - blue, green, pink, yellow, buttermilk, terracotta and ochre. Very strange, but they brighten up an otherwise very dry and barren landscape.

The next day we walked to town, about a mile, but of course up hill. It was very hot but a good view along the coast road. At the top we turned into Rua Sir Cliff Richard to walk down into town.
It was all very hilly, always up or down hill, a lot like the others we have visited, but with many more tourists, again mainly English. The central square was nicely shaded by huge palm trees with cafes all around.

We went to the small supermarket behind the cemetery on the way back. Well stocked but quite expensive. Then back to the boat to pack for our trip “home”.

The marina arranged a shuttle to the airport and back for us which made it really easy. It was great to see everyone and we collected all the spares we had ordered, and did quite a bit of shopping.

We had seen Easydivers on the quay, so arranged diving for Saturday 15th. We did two dives, the first 20m and the second 13m. The water was about 20 degrees at the bottom, so not too bad. Better then UK anyway! The viz was better too, about 15m on the first and then 10m, with lots of particles in the water. We saw lots of invertebrates – anenomes, sponges, sea cucumbers, nudibranchs, starfish, tubeworms, urchins and one tiny octopus the size of my hand.

On the first dive there were many conger eels, not very big, in holes all over the reef and large red spider crabs with seaweed all over, so if they sat still you would think they were part of the reef, lots of small fish and everywhere there were bits of old fishing net gradually becoming part of the reef.

The second dive was a small reef – a fish nursery, so many different fry and small fish. We saw several stonefish and a toadfish which posed nicely and then buried itself in the sandy bottom.
Sunday evening we listened to live jazz at a cafe on the quay sipping Mai-tais. Drums and bass from Brazil and keyboards and sax from UK. It felt like we were on holiday!

Monday we are departing for the lagoons at Faro.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Algarve

The Algarve Sunday 26th August

A good forecast for the passage south. An early start, up anchor at 0630 and off.  60miles to Cabo St Vincent and another 5 or so to the anchorage at Sagres.

A busy exit from Sines with an oil tanker being helped in by 4 tugs and a pilot, another tanker at anchor, a 3rd tanker coming in to anchor and a container ship looking for his place in the outer anchorage as well. Just like sailing at home. Oh forgot to mention fishing boats and pot markers plus the other 6/7 yachts leaving at the same time!

Sailing in the Portugese trades

We motored for a couple of hours until the wind picked up then made our way south under the Genoa and mizzen. ‘Arry steering, us working on our tans!

Our friends on Synkope who took the above pic.

With ‘Arry steering we can concentrate on looking out for pots, diving gannets, sheerwaters and dolphins. Yes, dolphins again and again.

We saw dozens of dolphins that came past us and there was a whole area of the sea that was alive with dolphins hunting and gannets diving. There must have been an enormous school of fish despite the fishermen’s best efforts! We saw dolphins twice again but not on the scale of this first encounter.


We arrived at the cape at about 1730; the wind was dropping despite the cape’s reputation. It soon came back again after we gybed and headed east. We turned to anchor in Sagres bay in 20kts of wind. It was a fairly sheltered anchorage despite the strong winds.
Cliffs off Lagos

The following morning we had a brisk sail in 20kts from the north to our destination at Lagos. Arrival at Lagos was beautiful as the coast is spectacular with many isolated stacks, caves in the cliffs and many beautiful small beaches.

Praia da Luz

The river entrance was alive with many tripper boats, fishing boats and a ferry crossing the river. On the reception pontoon we had to wait for the pedestrian bridge to be opened to allow access to the marina. We had been warned that Logos was very touristy, however despite being surrounded by holiday flats and a hotel plus numerous ‘English’ bars (a sort of Port Solent in the sun) in the marina, we rather liked the town, a 10 minute walk across the river, which is old, historic and relatively unspoilt and has a genuine feel to it.

Lagos town
On the Square - Lagos!
Slave Market Lagos

Again black and white cobbled streets, some very narrow and winding, with buildings in generally better repair than the previous towns. Lots of shops selling a variety of things from souvenirs to nice clothes and paintings and ceramics. The fort is from 17th C, sacked by the Earl of Essex, obviously Sir Francis’ day off. They also have the oldest slave market in Europe, the first auction being held in 1444, and the usual churches etc, though again not a lot from before the 1755 earthquake.


 The beaches were beautiful, nice sand clear water (COLD!) and the rugged stacks here and there backed by the cliffs.

The only thing we didn’t like was the marina prices which were €44.28 a night! No wonder the marina was half empty. We were expecting a 10% discount as we are members of the Cruising Association, but had to argue hard to get a 5% discount, not what was published. This left a sour taste in the mouth especially as the facilities were not 5 star and we were paying 5 star prices.

We moved on to Portimao and having heard the marina was very large and very noisy from the clubs and bars close by, we anchored along with about 20 other yachts.
Cliffs off Portimao
This Anchorage - or
This - or
This marina - Your choice
 This anchorage is beautiful. A lovely view of the beach, cliffs and the castle, light background music from the beach bar in the evening but not intrusive. Town was a long dinghy ride away and was not terribly interesting.
Portimao town
 Ferrugudo on the east bank of the river was a fascinating old fishing village with several restaurants. We had a lovely lunch in the square overlooking the river at an excellent price.

Our stow away, (remember Skipper?) has been spotted with a rather natty pair of shorts and has taken to spending days on the beach and evenings in the cockpit with a cold beer! Obviously thinks he is on holiday!

We dinghy’d to the beach on Sunday to investigate the caves. It was interesting walking round and through them. You can see the layers in the rock, some black, looks like lava, then just plain sandstone, but there were layers you could see shells in the stone. It can’t be very old because they were not fossilized, just hard and white.

The water was not as cold as Lagos, but still a bit too cold for a swim. We walked up to the other end of the beach near Ferragudo where there are a few beach bars. .

Again all the menus were in English as well as Portuguese with some Dutch and German as well. They are nicely done with thatch roofs and palm trees so they blend nicely into the scenery, unlike on the other side of the river at Praia da Rocha.

That is all very modern and brash, with flats or hotels completely covering the tops of the cliffs. We did not go over for a closer look. It was not very appealing.

Our next stop is Albufiera where we will leave the boat for a week to come back to the UK for family commitments. We will continue our cruise along Portugal’s south coast before heading out to Madeira.