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.

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