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Sailing Letter August 2014, Spain/Ria Arousa to Gibraltar

September 4, 2014

We started beginning of August with some anchoring in the Nature Reserve Islands between Ria Arousa and Ria Pontevedra. We visited the Isla Salvóra, where we found out that the “castle” was not a castle but a building for making salt. Do always check before making assumptions what the old buildings were used for J.

Next stop going south was, the Ria Pontevedra. We went for a marina and ended up in Sanxenxo. ( In northern Spain you will expect to find a lot of “x” in all villages names). Anyway, Sanxenxo is a main city in the area and by that also the gathering for festivals and DISCO!!!!. We had a not so pleasant night close to the base drums. Day after was rainy. Fortunately we had not being hit by many of those. We took a stroll in the closest area and, as most times in Spain, ended up in a small restaurant eating tapas. This time we also managed to find Goose Barnacles. Tastes like crab legs. Looks very special and when you as a sailor know that barnacles are things you like to avoid, it is interesting to find that they are costly!

From Sanxenxo we sailed to Conbarro (a tip we got from a sailor in Vilagarcía). We anchored 75 meters from the village center on 3 meter. Good holding. The village center is a 1000 year old fishing village, nicely restored. Small “streets” and pubs/restaurants like “holes in the wall”, close to where grannny is hanging her clothes to dry after washing. Definitely a place not to be missed. We spent 2 days just enjoying the scenery.  Sunny weather, warm, but still  cold water (+16 degrees).

On or way to the next Ria ( Ria de Vigo) we stopped at another of the natural Islands ( Islas Cíes). For the first time we had clear water: anchoring at 7 meter with total visibility. Good holding as always. Some swimming and a late stroll on the beach. Next day was not so pleasant. Wind change and a lot of “dust” in the water, some coming from all fishing boats harvesting “something” close by. We decided to move on to Baiona.

Baiona is an old city with remains from Columbus. A replica from “Pinto”, one of his ships is there for show. The old town is small, crowded with Spanish people on vacation and filled with nice small restaurants and pubs. A big castle from 1400 century lies on a cliff at the seafront.

Even if we still had “all time there is” we felt it was time to head for Portugal. Still motoring, no wind, and after some hours we ended up in Povoa de Varzim. OK marina, decent harbor fee ( € 18,50) and some Swedish boats again. One of the harbors sponsoring ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). Close to the showers you find a nice library where you can exchange books. We found that one of our books, left in Baiona, had travelled before us and was now to be found on the shelves here. (Important to make stamps in the books  you leave so that you can follow where they have been….)

We stayed in Varzim for 4 days, spending 24 of those hours listening to the foghorn… One day we took the metro to Porto. A beautiful city! Down by the river Douro you find all old Port vine houses, plenty of restaurants and a nice net of old intertwined streets. Peter took a photo of a taxi driver who managed to exceed the speed limit of 10 km. It’s really an achievement to manage something like that among the old houses, streets, stairs and restaurants!

Further south towards Lisbon. The swell forced us to go by motor. Since we have been in Lisbon before, we stopped in Cascais, after a nice 65-70 nM with a combination of sail and motor, calm and 7 knots and some dolphins making us company outside the Cape (Cabo da Roca). We had read that the harbor fee in Cascais was terrible, but we found it OK considering the service and closeness to a nice town. We also expected some extra wind to come later during the week so a safe harbor was needed.

Cascais is a pleasant town, small streets, old and new houses, a lot of azulejos (tiles painted in different colours and pictures)  both as decoration on facades and on the streets. We also found a nice outdoor market where we bought vegetables and spices ( a piri-piri plant and basil). Both of us made jogging tours (Peter most of the time) in the mornings and then the days went by strolling through the city or doing some shopping. Friday and Saturday it was Cascais´town festivity. Music, eateries etc. Happy for having the harbor a bit out of sight for the music, so we had some pleasant days ( and sleeping nights) there.

Next stop down the Portuguese coast was Sines. A sheltered anchorage close to the small, old, village. It is far between the possibilities to anchor down the Portuguese coast so we started to recognize some of the other boats coming in. At day 2 we were 4 Swedish boats there! We ate a nice dinner (baby swordfish for Eva and Sea Bass for Peter) in a family type restaurant in one of the narrow streets. Not any foreigners as far as we could see, just Portuguese families out for Saturday dinner. We spent an extra day for sun and swimming. Water clear but cold. Still around +16  degrees.

As mentioned it is far between marinas and anchorages. To Lagos we had a motor/sailing of 75 nM. During the calm part of the journey we got company by Common dolphins. Always welcome! Passing Cabo Vicente, the wind picked up and we had good sailing to Lagos.

We staid in Lagos for a couple of days, looking at the old city and doing some bunkering. The marina was rather expensive but well sheltered for the winds expected.

When weather became calmer we moved to Faro, anchoring inside the sand islands surrounding the nature reserve. Pretty spooky at high tide, since most of the small sandbanks disappeared and we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. The outer island with the two small villages is beautiful. Long beaches, small houses and restaurants. We stayed close to the village in south west and took a long walk to the one at the other end. There was also a small harbor with some people living on their boats all year. We found this village a bit more “worn down”, but still it was here we found 3 storks walking between plastic bags and other “left overs”. On the web we could read that storks migrate over land rather than water, and these were most likely on their way further south for the winter. So were we. Having time enough to make some stops before Gibraltar, we sailed to Mazarón. Good sailing with some visits from the dolphins and Eva managed to catch 4 mackerel for dinner. Peter posted a nice picture of that in our blog. Mazarón harbor belongs to a chain of marinas owned by the Andalusian government. They have the same fees – rather expensive – close to 50€  per night for our boat ( 15 x 4,40) . We took advantage of their service and asked them to book next stop for us. We knew that the next harbour Chipiona – a small, old, holiday town could be crowded this time of the year, so we thought that was vise to do. (We did the same going to Cadiz, later).

Chipiona: don’t miss it! It’s a beautiful old town (as most of the ones we have visited). Semi-large harbor, well kept, English speaking marineros. We stayed for 2 nights wandering the small streets, enjoying the atmosphere. We found a vine company/cellar for the Muscat grape. Tested different variants from sweet, raisin testing red wine (Peter) to white dry wine (Eva). Tapas eating of course, swimming in the now 27 degree water, enjoying ourselves. Number of people on the beach exceeded everything we had seen until now! Umbrellas, chairs, cool boxes, toys to last a day from 9 in the morning to 9 in the evening. Here we started to feel the heat. Temperature was now up to +37 degrees going down to maybe 27 in the night. Even Eva spent the days in the shadow. We started to experiment with open skylights/hatches, Mr. Notemann’s (he owner before us) blinds for the skylights and being in enclosed marinas having open windows helped. We took lots of pictures of tiles, making that the main story and pictures of this month’s blog.

Having more time to spend on our way to Gibraltar, we decided to visit Cadiz,  even if we had been there by car some years ago. We don’t regret that. Cadiz is a fantastic town. 3000 years old (!), small, narrow streets, marvelous market for fish, vegetables and meat. We found the place where we many years ago were having dinner with hundreds of hams hanging from the ceiling, the 23:rd of December. We also stumbled upon an interesting event taking place Monday to Thursday on the pier to the marina: trumpets, drums and horns, training for what we think is the eastern festival every year. If somebody knows something about this,   please mail us. It was at least 100 persons every night.

29-th of August we anchored in La Linea in Spain, having passed Gibraltar Strait, entering the Med. Fog and a lot of ships made the entrance interesting. Africa very visible with a mountain 800 meters high on the Morocco side and Gibraltar 400 meters on the other side. Very narrow strait. We anchored outside the marina in La Linea and I (Eva) had to ask for depth since the sea floor was visible at 7 meters. Fantastic water quality in a bay with an oil refinery at the inner shore.  We have been here by car a year ago so we know what to look for: tapas, Gibraltar cliff etc. 30-th of August we took a berth in the Queensway marina in Gibraltar, for a week, waiting for spare parts and enjoying the easy English life here.

All in all:

For those who wonder why we are going through all harbours and anchorages: we have enjoyed other sailor’s descriptions of where to go and where to not go, and we like to add to that information.

One thing is obvious: don’t leave the Rias in northern Spain too soon. They are special. Easy to find shelter, marinas mixed with sheltered anchorages. Old villages, lots of shellfish. Here we spent 60-70% at anchor, enjoying every day/night. We spent nearly 4 weeks in the Rias.

Cold water: the temperature in the water on the west coast is 16 degrees, nothing else! If water is clear you still don’t do a long swim around the boat.

VAT in Portugal: coming in to Portugal we found the marinas a far between and some are expensive. The fee is shown without tax (23%) and could give you a minor heart attack when paying your way out of a marina. Having said that, the cheapest marina since Rendsburg in Germany was Varzim with 18 € per night.

Azulejas: the tiles in Portugal are marvelous. We are adding lots of photos of how they use painted tiles in Portugal. Moorish, Spanish and Portuguese influence. They are called azulejas because they were only blue (azul) and white in the beginning. The Moorish tiles are non-figurative but the Portuguese ones are used as paintings, explaining fishing and other “normal life” events.

Enclosed marinas: to stay in enclosed marinas is a major plus since we in the south of Portugal and Spain did experienced +35 degrees and had to have all skylights/hatches open, night and day.

Fish nets: southern Portugal and especial Spain is filled with fishing nets and fixed equipment for fishing. That makes day sailing a “must”, or you have to go far out to sea.

Nature

  • Water temperature: colder than expected at the west coast of Portugal and Spain
  • Storks: found in Faro
  • Dolphins (common and bottle nosed). We have seen them many times. However, the bottle nosed are “less curious” as the Common dolphins
  • Parrots: small parrots imported and escaped are living well in the area of Cadiz. You will hear and see green birds in the trees that most likely belong to some other country further south.
  • Eucalyptus trees are now handing over to pine trees.
  • Hibiscus, Nerium and Bougainvillea are still sparkling with colors

Gastronomy

  • Goose Barnacles ( Sp, Percebes) We managed to find them at last. Looks strange but taste like crab legs.
  • Wine: in Porto we tested port wines but the best was a red wine from a winery more famous of port wine, Kopke.
  • Sardines: there is a season for sardines, July to September. We found it in Porto and ate Sardines there and also further south.
  • Chicken Piri-Piri: a Portuguese dish where the chicken is marinated in hot (!) sauce.
  • Spices: in Portugal we found hot spices again. We had been looking for chili, ginger, basil and other spices. We even found live piri-piri that we are now taking care of for later harvest.

Until next time / hasta luego

BR Eva, Peter

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