PLYMOUTH TO PORTUGAL
 

As we were uploading the previous news the team from World Cruising arrived for Rally Portugal. We then had a safety inspection, briefings, worked out how to raise the flags to dress the boat (not immediately an easy thing with a ketch and a wind generator to contend with!), last shopping trip and boat stowing.

On the Saturday we were visited by my brother Simon, also Mike and Jacque O'Keefe and Simon and Candy Waldram to say goodbye. It was great to see everyone and thank you for driving so far to see us.

We were due to leave Plymouth for Spain on Sunday 30th of May. However the forecast was for gales in the Western Approaches late on Sunday and it was agreed the fleet would gain some westing and put into Falmouth before the weather arrived. The intention being to leave when the cold front went through and the wind had gone round to (the favourable) northwest.

We spent the (very wet) Monday walking around Falmouth in full wet weather gear, and felt extremely sorry for the people who had collected to mark the D Day anniversary as they stood in the pouring rain. We also visited the Maritime Museum and finally set off at 4.15 am Tuesday 1st of June - the last boat to leave. The weather was grey and misty with light winds until we cleared the Lizard. With a fairly rough and confused sea we set full sail and covered 140 miles in the first twenty four hours.

From then on the days blurred together as we got into the routine of watchkeeping (one of us always on deck), sleeping and eating. As one of the radio net controllers we were tasked with making contact with the other boats and relaying their positions to World Cruising by Sat C. In mid Biscay we received an email via Sat C from my brother with news of the other boats. It was strange to be out there and read about what was happening!

Memorable moments included dolphins and a collared dove that hitched a ride - the dove disappeared when a big freighter passed by, I like to think it preferred a quicker form of transport rather than just droppping off its perch on the stern rail.

We knew we were sailing into a high pressure area and on the third day we found it - twenty four hours of winds around eight knots. We kept sailing any angle with west or south in it, changed the genoa for our twin headsails, cheering if we got 3 knots boat speed (only later did we find out that most other boats had motored through the light airs). Little were we to know that the a significant change was on it's way.

On Friday the 4th, about 8am, I woke Mike to report that the wind had been building steadily for some hours and was now 25 knots. Since it seemed likely the wind would keep building we decided to drop the main sail and continue reaching under mizzen and genoa. It was the correct decision as we had apparent wind speeds of 35 knots gusting 50 knots and big seas - brilliant sailing to start with, in bright sunshine under blue skies, but becoming ever more tiring. The winds continued through the day and night finally easing around 5am on the 5th.

This was the first period of sustained strong winds we have sailed Kelly's Eye in and she behaved impeccably. With the wind vane driving, she just ploughed on, taking the odd wave over her - one of which curled over the boat and drenched me. Our problems were holding on and sleeping. The only damage suffered was a plate that decided to take flying lessons and failed.

The only drama we had during this period had nothing to do with the weather but happened as we crossed the shipping tracks north of Cape Finisterre. Mike was on watch at night and saw a red (port side) light with single white above it - a small ship moving right to left across our bows, but something didn't seem right and he called me up for a second opinion. I knew it was important because I asked if I had time to go to the loo before coming on deck and Mike said "no, get your wet weather gear on and get up here fast please". It was almost impossible to tell which way the ship was going so we had to make Kelly's Eye ready for fast evasive action (we have to take the wind vane down because the mizzen boom would destroy it during a major course change) and start hand steering. Eventually we went round the front of the ship and to our amazement saw that the ship's starboard light was also red (it should be green). Then as it went away from us we saw the stern light was also red (it should be white). Quite why a ship should be showing illegal and dangerous lights is beyond us but Mike would have happily killed the skipper.

Cape Finisterre has a fearsome reputation for strong winds so, of course, we rounded it about 8am on the 5th in a flat calm and thick fog with visibility about two hundred yards. From then on we had no wind all the way to Bayona (about eighty miles away) which gave us a chance to eat a decent meal and have a shower, but we didn't even see Spain until late afternoon. What we did see though were dolphins, hundreds of them all the way down the coast. We also gained another feathered passenger, another dove, which perched on the mizzen, caused a mess on the deck below and flew off when land was eventually sighted!

We finally arrived in Bayona (the last boat in) just before midnight (UK time) on the 5th, to an amazing welcome from the other boats. There were lines of faces on the pontoon all shouting and cheering - many thanks to everybody, it meant a lot to us then and still does.

Two very tired but happy people then had some smoked salmon sandwiches (!) and some large gins to celebrate what had been our first long distance passage. We learned a lot about the boat, a fair amount about ourselves, plus a few minor but important things we would do differently to make passage making easier.

We had one day in Bayona, so we enjoyed a hearty breakfast, washed the boat, tidied up, aired the sailing gear and went to the prizegiving party that night. We won a prize for showing "the spirit of the rally".

The next day the Rally began making its way down the coast. For anyone that followed it on the World Cruising site you'll have a general idea of where we went. First stop was Povoa de Varzim in Portugal where Bayona's mist gave way to warm sunshine. While there the majority of crews seemed to head for the washing machines and soon the boats were not only dressed in flags but also in assorted articles of clothing! It wasn't all work however. We went on a tour of the local countryside, very fertile and green, and there was another prizegiving party at the marina.

The marina in Povoa isn't huge but it's pleasant and there were quite a few spaces for boats and the shower facilities were excellent and spacious. If anyone is reading this and wondering why I touch on this subject, I'm beginning to think that after visiting a number of marinas in the last couple of months the shower/toilet facilities (number, cleanliness, room to put towel and clothes somewhere dry) and the laundry arrangements (type and number of machines, token or money, use their soap or yours) are measures of overall enjoyment. This may seem a sad state to arrive at and it's probably a sign that its high time we were anchored off somewhere, but it matters!

From Povoa we went to Leixoes, which doesn't get brilliant write ups in any of the pilots we've read, as the marina is in the corner of a commercial harbour and can be dirty, but it was reasonably clean when we got there. Only one ladies loo though! Mike got a 'golden pillow' award from me while we were there as on the evening of the prizegiving party at the yacht club he decided to nap for an hour before we went and ended up deciding to stay put in bed when the hour was up! The next day we went to Oporto to visit a port producer which was very interesting and Oporto itself was beautiful (saw the football stadium Paul K!). That evening, we wandered just behind the marina and found an area of older housing and restaurants, chose one of the latter and Mike then ordered crab, french fries and salad, with a few prawns. When his meal arrived his 'few prawns' turned out to be a meal in themselves and the whole meal covered the table. He ate the lot which probably says much about how well I've been feeding him!

The next stop was Figuera de Foz and a welcome three night stop. As soon as we had tied up it was off for showers and then a meal of sardines overlooking the boats. Over the road from the marina was a wonderful market selling fish, meat, superb fruit and vegetables, bread, cheeses and flowers. We bought a trolley from one of the stalls to carry shopping and diesel cans on. Something we'd considered but not done anything about in the UK, and for which we definitely saw a need! On one of the days we went inland to Coimbra (saw the stadium there too!) where it was extremely hot in marked contrast to Figuera.

We left there in 30 knots of wind which made for some interesting exits from berths, as soon as the start line was crossed the wind started dying, typical. Then it was on to Peniche a small fishing town slightly spoilt by the overwhelming smell of fish. We were rafted outside two other boats and to keep the fridge cold we ran the generator a couple of times a day. The evening before leaving the generator suddenly stopped. The problem turned out to be something blocking the cooling water intake, which it shares with the engine. There was no wind the next day, so no engine, we were staying there. However what we'll never forget were the offers of help we received. Moonshadow Star offered to tow us out into clean water so we could investigate under the boat. Anam Cara and Trillium Wind offered to tow us the 50 miles or so to Cascais and Barry from Charlena offered to go under the boat instead of Mike doing it. Mike decided to go for it and removed a plastic carrier bag from the intake. After a shower we left the dock, and as we made our way to Cascais (and before breakfast!) he dosed himself with a large Mount Gay rum to deal with any bugs. This had worked when he had to go into the water in Hydra in Greece due to a crossed anchor, except in that case the dose was Metaxa!

Cascais was another three night stop and on one of the days we went to Sintra and also to see the most westerly lighthouse on mainland Europe. We also found a chandler who made us some electrical adaptors we needed for connecting the boat to the supply on pontoons. Cascais was a pretty town and we enjoyed our time there, although it was HOT!

Then it was on to Sines and on this leg we were accompanied by Toby Hodges from Yachting Monthly. He had already visited the boats in Plymouth (to appear in the August issue, on sale July) and would now sail with us on this leg and then on another yacht Csardas on the last leg (to appear in the September issue we believe). We started in little wind but then it came up so all sail went up, including the twin headsail Twistle rig, then we put the windvane to work. It was a great sail, Kelly's Eye is best in winds over 20 knots and as she surged to Sines we all sat around doing very little. We didn't touch anything for hours as she sailed herself and the lack of activity seemed to bemuse Toby who is used to sailing with a spinnaker which needs constant trimming. Two boats had eventful afternoons. Charlena had trouble getting her cruising chute down and spent a considerable amount of time trying to do so, they finally retreived the sail from under the boat. Anam Cara discovered they had no reverse gear so once Charlena had sorted herself out she acted as a brake on Anam Cara to enable them to berth. The marina in Sines is quite small and right by a lovely clean beach.

The last leg was to Lagos. We decided to leave at first light as it was a 75 mile trip and although we wouldn't normally worry about arriving in the dark, just about everywhere we had arrived at in Portugal had had a large number of fishing buoys in the approaches, normally badly marked and virtually impossible to see at night. As it turned out everyone left earlier than scheduled as no wind was forecast and any racing was called off. As with Cape Finisterre, Cape St Vincent has a reputation, so in spite of keeping our eyes peeled on the boats in front for sudden dousing of sails or heeling, we rounded in flat seas and virtually no wind. We did however remember to dip the ensign as is tradition.

So there we have it, after the prizegiving dinner the next day, the Rally was over. We enjoyed it a lot, being part of it gave us a date for having to leave England (and therefore house, jobs and so on), and it got us a long way south in a short time. We met a great bunch of people, with differing onward plans and different boats. I've made no mention of the numerous drinks on other boats, (thanks to Moonshadow Star, Trillium Wind, Seraph, Vindomar, Jezebel, Swagman, Autumn Wasp, Heller West and Anam Cara)and on ours, nor of Janet from Trillium Wind trying to headbutt a winch crossing Biscay and the attractive headgear she was forced to wear as a result. But they all happened.

We're still in Lagos two weeks later. A number, but not all boats have left or crews have returned to the UK for a while and will come back later on in the summer. We promised ourselves a week's rest and then a week of work on the boat (painting the topsides and stripping varnish). We didn't have a total week off as of course there's always something to do such as washing, shopping, finding an Internet cafe and so on. We did manage a couple of beach outings (the water is not warm!), found a chandler in the Sopromar enclosure near the fishing port so we could replace some pipe from the sump pump which was leaking. Cedric from Trillium Wind took us in his hire car to Sagres nearby while Janet was back in the UK. Great beach and more opportunities for Mike to try body surfing. Barry from Charlena emptied his freezer before returning to Ireland. We were the recipients of six steaks and a pack of sausages and we weren't the only ones. Having feasted one night on steak, we had sausages the next, cold sausages for lunch the next day and then went to Moonshadow Star with Trillium Wind the finish off the rest of the steaks.

We started stripping varnish (although the boat looks lovely with it on, the UV damage will mean regular revarnishing) only to have our hot air gun pack up. A fruitless search in town meant we then asked Bluewater services here in the marina to find us another. Two days later we could start work again. So far we've done the capping on the toerails, plus the cockpit table and a large hatch near the stern. Yesterday we sanded the whole of the coachroof, scuppers and cockpit (luckily there are very few boats near us now) and have now derusted and filled various bits. Mike is, as I type, applying undercoat to the scuppers. It's been hot work. Temperatures here are in the mid thirties when there is little wind, and still fells pretty warm when the wind blows, and it has been on a number of days, up to 30 knots or so. The plan is to finish the painting here over the next few days. It was the last major job we had to do and we saved it for somewhere with reliable dry warm conditions. Now we've started we want to get it finished and then start cruising the Portuguese and Spanish coasts without always thinking about 'doing a bit more'.

Hopefully by the end of the week we can get going. We've been marina bound for a while and although there are undoubted conveniences in being here it's time to drop anchor away from civilisation. Tonight we'll go and watch the final game in Euro 2004 on TV (supporting Portugal of course!). Every time Portugal has won a game the streets have been filled with the noise of car horns and cheers for hours afterwards. In Sines we even had a patrol boat nearby sounding its siren every time a goal was scored and at the end of the game. When we leave we plan to anchor off Portimao, maybe put in to Albufeira for a night and then anchor behind the sand dunes south of Faro and Olhau in the lagoons. From there, Tavira then up the Rio Guadiana between Portugal and Spain for a while before heading on down the Spanish coast, with hopefully a trip to the nature reserve at Coto Donana.