Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Algarve

And so back to Spain after just over a month in Portugal. We are at Ayamonte on the Rio Guardiana, the River that forms the border between Spain and Portugal. Coming into the river we didn’t know which courtesy flag to fly as we crisscrossed the border!
On the whole we have enjoyed Portugal and the friendliness of its people. The Atlantic coast was less fierce than we had imagined due to settled trade winds albeit that we had strong sea breezes in the late afternoon and at times a significant swell.

It sounds strange but we felt Porto and Lisbon to be high on our list of highlights of the Country but they are both intimate and friendly ‘cities’ unlike the vast cities back in the UK.

The western Algarve has a beautiful coastline of craggy multi coloured layered sandstone cliffs with isolated sandy coves and deep caves. It is a desperate shame that these coves and beaches are filled to the brim with British tourists and the cliffs are topped with gross over development of high-rise hotels and apartment blocks. Place names Vilamoura, Praia de Rocha and Almancil may strike the fear of God into you.

We found Lagos pleasant enough as a town, although the language spoken was English. It was here that we first saw Storks who build their nests the size of a mini on top of chimneys, spires, turrets and domes. Apparently the birds migrate to North Africa during the winter here and come back to the same nest in the spring year after year.
It was in Lagos that we said a fond and sad farewell to our very good German friends Michael and Jutta from ‘Allegro ma non Troppo’ who are heading east at a faster rate than us from now on. We hope to meet up with them in the Mediterranean in years to come.

Just east of Lagos is the lagoon at Alvor which is peaceful after the hustle and bustle of the resort towns. Miggy swam here and at the same time cleaned Bella’s waterline.
In the marina at the next stop, Portimao, we first noticed that the boat next to us had a delightful black Labrador on board. A little later we saw that the Dutch boat the other side of us, which was a static ‘live aboard’ catamaran, had a Rotweiler, a Heinz 57 dog, and African Grey Parrot, three Budgies, a Siamese cat and a black Moggie. The Guinea Pigs and Rabbit had died!! All pretty bizarre!!
We quickly transited the resorts of the Algarve to the Rio Formosa, a lagoon on which stands Faro. We anchored for a couple of days just a dinghy ride away from this serene regional capital with its historic old walled town. We were fascinated by the Storks once again and, talking of things that fly, have learnt the livery of every charter airline and budget carrier as the anchorage was directly under the flight path and only a matter of a few hundred meters from the end of the runway at Faro airport. Funnily enough one soon became accustomed to the noise which stopped before bedtime and started at a reasonable hour in the morning.

Further east in the lagoon we anchored off the Isla Culatra, a sand spit that separates the lagoon from the open sea. The tiny ramshackled fishing village, whilst overrun with local tourists at this time of year, maintains its individuality and charm and its incredibly low prices. We had lunch in a no nonsense café of fine crusty bread with locally popular sardine paste, a beautiful selection of fish grilled over wood, a salad to die for, as they say, and a litre of local Vinho Tinto all for 20 euros (£14) for the two of us. Our sole concern at this windy anchorage was other yachts dragging their anchors with the risk of hitting us. Anchoring techniques amongst the French, Spanish and Portuguese leave a lot to be desired with them putting out much less chain than is necessary and choosing positions at which to drop the anchor that belie all accepted practice and common sense. We survived without a scratch however!

A few days ago, luckily whilst on a Marina berth at Isla Canela, we had torrential rain and 50 Knot winds for a few hours. Locals here say that the weather patterns in the Algarve have been unusual to say the least this year. We have had our fair share of strong winds and rough seas while sailing along this coast. Still we are safely tucked up in a quiet Marina on this beautiful River for a few days ‘holiday’.
We have found Internet less accessible along this coast, particularly when we are at anchor. We therefore apologise to anyone who has emailed us within the last two weeks for our lack of reply. Normal service should be resumed from now.

Some of you may have heard Miggy broadcasting on BBC Solent Radio on the 11th of August. Her next ‘appearance’ on the Julian Clegg show is at around 0630 on the 8th of September.

We were so devastated to hear of Jim's (Neal's cousin Lorri's husband) stroke. Our thoughts are with you all and we pray for a quick and successfull recovery. Chhwe nid Jhim to chhelp ush shpik thish chhlankwich.

Our Spanish telephone number is +34 636 587 556.

Monday, August 07, 2006

South West Portugal

We have had a week’s ‘holiday’ in Sines, the birthplace of Vasco de Gama, on Portugal’s Alentejo coast and then sailed around the Cabo Sao Vincente to Lagos on the Algarve. We dipped our ensign and downed a drink a glass of Port as we rounded the Cape, the most southwesterly point of continental Europe and a place off which Lord Nelson fought many sea battles. During our transit of the Portuguese coast we have encountered yachts from twenty different nations – French, Belgian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swiss, Danish, German, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Latvian, American, Dutch, Irish, Russian, Bermudan, Australian, South African and from St Maarten in the Caribbean. In addition the good old Brits are still here although their numbers dwindle as we head south.

Tall Ships of all nationalities and sizes have crossed our path on their way north from Cadiz to La Coruna from where they set off on their final race to Antwerp. We were particularly pleased to see an old favourite at anchor in the bay here, the ‘Jolie Brise’.
Having written extensively about the places we’ve visited perhaps you would like to hear a little about us and our life aboard. In the four months and 1500 miles that we have been away from the UK we have actually sailed for 39 days. We generally start a passage day, particularly on this Atlantic coast, at about 0600 so as to arrive at our destination before the ‘berthing’ breeze sets in at around Force 6. Being safely on the berth watching others struggle to berth in the wind is better than TV – yachts all over the place fending off everything in sight and loads of shouting! We are not exempt from this I should add but we’re getting better!

On our non-sailing days we simply laze around in the sun! Those of you who know Miggy will know that is not true nor would we want it to be so. If we’re not doing something special like sightseeing, we get up at a sociable hour and have a light breakfast. We used to have toast but the grill warms the cabin too much down here in the heat. Then most days we will go up into town explore and to buy fresh provisions even if bread is our only need. It is invariably ‘up’ the hill into town so it is good exercise for us. After lunch of bread, cold meats, salad, fruit and cheese and perhaps a siesta thereafter, particularly for the ‘old man’, we will tackle household items such as laundry, book keeping, writing the journal and these ‘blogs’ and putting photos and all sorts onto the computer. There is also the mountain of work that goes into keeping a yacht like this in good and clean condition. We are rarely short of something to do but do make time for relaxation as well! A particular mention of Supper and the magnificent job Miggy does in the galley with just two gas rings, an inadequate oven that actually negates roasting, braising and baking, and sometimes a limited choice of ingredients. She concocts varied and delicious dishes that would do great justice to any respectable supper table all in quick time, generally while Neal is drinking a ‘livener’. It is the sauces that make the difference she tells me and I agree. The food on board is so fresh and tasty that we rarely step ashore for supper, perhaps only twice a month to taste national or local dishes. Having said that we appear to be out tonight for an Indian! It’s good to out once in a while as it gives Miggy a rest from the heat of the Galley.

Talking of heat Miggy swam for the first time in Sines in a sea temperature of 18ºC. She thought it was ******* cold. Of course our bit of the Atlantic down here does not have the benefit of the Gulf Stream as your bit does in the UK. Still the sea temperature should rise from now on in the Algarve and then the Med and we have 19.5ºC already. Weather wise in general we have hardly seen a cloud for weeks let alone rain. It can be breezy in these NE trades but daytime temperatures are around 30ºC in the shade and at night we have around 20ºC. Neal is now wandering around in SHORTS and SANDALS and NO socks - whatever next!!

We endeavour to keep the yacht cool in the heat of the day. In the cockpit we have a ‘bimini’ (basically a big sunshade that covers the entire cockpit) and loads of bits of cloth we can zip to it in a variety of places to stop the sun’s rays. Down below Miggy has devised a system based on that she learned from her Dad in India. Curtains at all of the windows, her homemade canvass covers fixed to the outside of the hatches and fans. The sun doesn’t have a chance down here and it is very comfortable.

Miggy’s art is progressing extraordinarily well with her painting local landscapes, buildings and things of interest to remind us of where we’ve been. She is developing her individual style and her technique and style are improving day by day. People, to whom she shows her work, including an art teacher from Lisbon, praise it for its professionalism and quality. Someone has to keep us in the way to which we have been accustomed in later life!

Which brings me to the subject cost of living out here. We reckon that in Spain and Portugal the cost of food, drink and general purchases is about two thirds of the cost in the UK. France was a little more expensive. Marina costs in the north of Europe were again about two-thirds the cost of those in the south of the UK and sometimes very much less. As we are getting further south and here in the Algarve we are paying Solent Marina prices.

We do appear to be under budget overall which is satisfying and, of course, necessary. Yes we actually prepared a budget before we came away based on what we thought would be reality not on what we could afford! Finally we have been delighted to receive emails, texts and phone calls from some of you. As we travel further from you all, although it only takes a day to get back to see you, we do miss you increasingly. Your contact with us helps allay our homesickness, which, although not overwhelming, is present.