Mazagon and Cadiz

Bidding farewell to Culatra at sunrise.

Bidding farewell to Culatra at sunrise.

After nine nights at anchor we departed Culatra at first light and sailed east, back into Spain, to Mazagón, on the Andalucia coast. We intended to stay two nights, but the weather had other ideas. What was the point battling south against strong southerly winds, when we could wait it out a few days until we had more favourable conditions.

Yet another onboard birthday for Katie...

Yet another onboard birthday for Katie…

...thar she blows!

…thar she blows!

I cannot tell you what Mazagón is like. In four days I left the marina only twice: once to go to the nearest supermarket, stopping off at a playground on the way, and once to go for a stroll on the small beach nearby. There are times when I just need to rein in the exploring, and this was one of them. Julian and the girls did a little exploring, visiting the church in a nearby town where Columbus’ discovery was officially announced, but they too enjoyed some quiet down time aboard Carina.

Lily engrossed in 'George's Marvellous Medicine'

Lily engrossed in ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’

After almost a month of hand-washing, it was time for the mother of all laundry days. Nine days in the sand at Ilha da Culatra had left us with a mountain of sandy, salt-water stained clothes, towels and bedding. My first day at Mazagón was devoted to laundry – four loads of it, carried back and forth half a mile to the laundry room on the other side of the marina. I walked four miles around the marina that day, and it was only on the third mile that it struck me that I should have inflated the dinghy and rowed through the mostly empty marina – a quarter of the distance I had walked. Still, the laundry got done, I got some exercise, and I had begun to banish the Culatra sand from Carina.

Having had only one hour of Internet access in ten days, I was keen for news of friends and family and news of the world beyond Culatra. So I sat on the boat, reading and replying to emails, following news stories, listening to Nicky Campbell and Rachel Burden in the morning on BBC Radio 5 Live, turning to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4, back to 5 Live for Richard Bacon in the afternoon and Peter Allen on Drive. It was the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, so Julian and I were glued to the radio, via our laptop, soaking up every bit of information we could get.

From Mazagón we sailed south towards Cadiz. We sailed hard into the wind, making 5 knots if we were lucky, leaning uncomfortably at times. We had rain squalls and sea spray to contend with, and it was the first time in a long time that we had our rain jackets on. At one point we ran through a fleet of almost thirty fishing trawlers, all with their nets out, and manoeuvring through them under sail was so complicated that we rolled in the genoa and motored until we had left them behind.

With the sails out again, we could see the entrance to Cadiz in the distance, but when I tried to steer to port, the wheel made a rather alarming clicking sound, and Carina refused to turn. Starboard was no problem, we could have sailed out into the Atlantic if we wanted (or round and round in circles), but to port she did not want to go. In with the genoa again, motor on and some experimentation, to see what she would and would not do. With the sails in, she was happy to turn to port, and we suspected the problem was us, not Carina. The sails were set to the wind in such a way that she could not turn. Still, the clicking sound was worrying, and we decided on caution, and motored the rest of the way in, imaging the fun we would have if the wheel failed and we had to rig up the emergency tiller, and steer while standing on our bed in the aft cabin peering out through the aft hatch!

The sea and sky during a thunder storm

The sea and sky during a thunder storm

We arrived in Cadiz marina shortly after 7pm (an entire blog post devoted to our recent marina experiences to follow!). Anticipating an entire day of diagnosing and fixing helm problems, Julian went for a walk to catch a glimpse of Cadiz before dark, while the girls and I had supper on board. Our supper in the cockpit was accompanied by the sounds of a brass band coming from the direction of the city, so as soon as we had eaten we threw on our shoes and headed in that direction. We bumped into Julian on the way, and together we walked along, past band after band practising along the promenade. They all played different tunes, some had loud drums, some just brass instruments. But the effect was incredible, and Katie caught the dancing bug, and the rest of us soon followed suit. Far into the early hours of the morning, long after we had gone to bed, we could still hear the brass bands practising!

Cadiz city hall.

Cadiz city hall.

Cadiz is renowned for its beauty and history. And, indeed, it is beautiful and historical. But we wondered if more is made of it due to its large reliance on cruise ships. We have been to far more beautiful but far less celebrated cities in Spain, and we found Cadiz to be quite expensive and catering very much to the deep-pocketed tourists who disembark multiple cruise ships every day. The streets are very beautiful, and we visited some lovely churches, but the fee to enter the cathedral was more than we could afford, and I was truly disappointed to see the state of disrepair of the Roman theatre. This was built in 60-70BC and is the largest such theatre on the Iberian Peninsula. But having survived over 2000 years, it is now scrubby and dirty, closed to tourists, graffitied and miserable. What an amazing cultural and historical site abandoned for who knows what reason.

Cadiz Cathedral.

Cadiz Cathedral.

Walking back to the marina we had to take shelter from a thunder storm. The colours of the sky and sea were majestic! Julian’s exploration of the steering mechanism came up blank, and so the next day we set out again, towards Barbate, inching closer to the Mediterranean each day.

Shifting focus

Though the sun beats down and the temperatures still hit the mid to high 20s every day, there is a change in the air. The days grow a little shorter (though not as dramatically as we are used to at higher latitudes), it’s now cooler in the evenings, and when we wake each morning there is condensation on Carina’s hatches. Autumn is here and winter isn’t far behind.

I never shared our full sailing plans on my blog, in case they didn’t happen, or in case we decided to follow a completely different tack. But now that we have almost completed what we set out to achieve for the summer of 2014, I can tell you that our plan from the beginning was to sail from Plymouth to the Mediterranean. We are now 215 cruising miles from the Straits of Gibraltar, the entrance to the Mediterranean.

We still might not get there. Along the way we have considered other options. Spending the winter up the Vilaine River in Brittany was a possibility we toyed with. It had its advantages, but our desire to sail more was too strong. Even after crossing Biscay, we thought we might go back to the Vilaine. But the prospect of a cold wet French winter, not unlike the winter in the south-west of England, ruled Brittany out for us in the end.

The Galician Rias were tempting, but they are exposed to the Atlantic, which can turn angry in winter, and which drops a lot of rain on north-west Spain. As we sailed down the Portuguese coast, we considered the marinas at Albufeira and Vilamoura and were excited to see what they would be like. But we were disappointed by Albufeira, as the marina lacks a washing machine (and the nearest launderette is 2km away) and the cost of Wifi is extortionate. We found the marina and town itself soulless, and I couldn’t imagine being there for a week, let alone six months. We didn’t stop at Vilamoura, as an Internet search revealed that the winter rates at the marina are beyond our budget. We may sail to the Rio Guadiana, which marks the border between Portugal and Spain, and consider the possibilities of spending the winter there.

As August dissolved into September our focus shifted. We are no longer in cruising mode, and instead are looking at each destination as a potential winter base. We have had a couple of places in the Mediterranean in mind almost since the moment we left the UK, but anywhere between here and there could potentially be the place where we rest and regroup for the next six to nine months. Carina will soon be in need of more concerted maintenance. Her sails are in need of repair, her hull needs to be anti-fouled, and we have a long list of smaller jobs besides.

I have a winter of writing ahead, with a couple of projects I hope to complete and a great number of ideas swirling around my head that long to be committed to the page.

One or other of us may look for a temporary job, to refill the coffers, but whether we do or not depends on a variety of factors.

And then there is the planning ahead. Already we have begun to toss ideas around, dreaming of future sailing possibilities. Those plans are very much in the fantasy stage at the moment, but we both look forward to having the time over winter to research and plan, taking into consideration our finances, our sailing abilities and Carina’s capabilities.

I wouldn’t have been surprised, come August, to have found ourselves still in Devon or Cornwall. Despite our plans, things could have taken a different turn. All too often I’ve met sailors with big plans who are stuck for weeks or months at a time due to engine failure, broken masts, or a host of other unexpected problems. So to find ourselves in the Algarve, on Portugal’s southern coast, at the time of year when we had originally planned to be here, is remarkable and wonderful. We are delighted to have made it so far. Gibraltar and the Mediterranean lie ahead, if we choose to go that far.

Have you heard the one about the Inuit family?

There’s a joke – it probably exists in one form or another in every over-studied community in the world – that an Inuit family consists of the mum, dad, kids and the anthropologist! Well, in a community like the village on Ilha da Culatra, it was only a matter of time before I bumped into the anthropologist. There was bound to be one – this place has certainly got my anthropological juices flowing.

DSCI4591After a day on the beach we went for a beer. A woman with a dog asked if she could sit with us. She told us that she is conducting research on tourism on the island and is particularly interested in the relationship between the islanders and the yacht-owners. ‘Oh’, I said, my ears pricking up at the idea of doing research here. ‘What research methods do you use?’
‘I’m an anthropologist’, she replied.
‘No way! Me too!’ I exclaimed.
And that was the start of a conversation that was alas cut short by her having to run for the last ferry to the mainland. She’s got winter fieldwork planned and was in Culatra trying to find cheap accommodation for a few months. But she knew the island well, having been a teacher here a few years ago.

I too had wondered about the relationship between the islanders and the yachties and I’d be intrigued to read her findings. When we first arrived we were surprised by the number of boats at anchor close to the island. This was before I discovered the catamaran community around the corner. Each day we bump into the same sailors, from Britain, Ireland, Holland and elsewhere. I even met a South African who I first met in Brixham in 2012 when we did our VHF radio course together. Like many others, he is drawn back to Culatra every year, and finds it hard to leave.

DSCI4608There are a few at anchor like ourselves and our Dutch friends – people passing through on their way to someplace else. But the larger, semi-resident population at anchor spend every summer here – and summer is long – living on their boats and coming ashore late each afternoon to gather in one particular bar (the one closest to the harbour), where they sit together, conversing in English. And of course many in the catamaran community are permanently resident.

The anthropologist suggested, and we witnessed, some antagonism between the resident yachties and the locals. As happens all over the world, whether in tiny villages or large cities, there are those locals who embrace the outsiders, those who ignore them, and those who are antagonistic towards them. Similarly, there are the outsiders – the yachties in this instance – who make the effort to speak the local language and get to know the locals, and there are those who ignore the life of the village going on around them. Though all the locals we have met have been very friendly towards us (it’s like being back in Galicia again – the grandmothers grab Lily and Katie and plant big kisses on their cheeks), we felt there was some annoyance amongst the fisherman because of the little yachting dinghies clogging up the spaces in the fishing harbour. There’s also graffiti on the only public shower in town that says ‘Locals only’.

The appeals of returning to Culatra year after year are multiple. It is beautiful. There are no cars, and Lily and Katie have more freedom and independence here than ever before. In the past week they have made friends with local children. It reminds me of Arviat, or of Ireland when I was a child – doors are open, everyone knows everyone, life moves at a more relaxed pace. I like the quirkiness and uniqueness of island life; the wry jokes I’ve shared with a few locals (and how I wish I spoke Portuguese so I could talk to more people). If I was here for longer I would want to get involved in community life – I can’t help myself; it’s an occupational hazard of being an anthropologist. So while there is an appeal in returning to the same anchorage year after year, I wouldn’t want to do so to sit in the same bar, with the same other cruisers, and remain apart from the life of the community going on around me.

Old cats

Lily and I took the ferry to Olhão to buy presents and party food for Katie’s birthday. On the ferry we befriended the Dutch crew of Mallemok – Patricia and Boris and their two sons, aged 7 and 10. Back on Ilha da Culatra we met Julian at the bar nearest the ferry and all enjoyed an evening together.

DSCI4586The next day we met again, this time on the beach. As well as sharing their delicious picnic and a bottle of wine with us, they showed us the shells they had collected earlier in the day. I had only seen shells like these in museum display cases before, and so the girls and I decided a shell-hunting expedition was in order.

We awoke early the next morning and took the dinghy to shore through the slowly lifting fog. Julian took the ferry to Olhão and the girls and I went hunting. It was less than an hour after low water, on a spring tide, and we passed old women, far out on the mud flats, bent double, foraging for clams.

Clam pickers at low tide

Clam pickers at low tide

Oh what shells we found! Huge spiral shells of sea snails, shells covered in sharp scary-looking thorns, shells as thick and hard as rocks, others delicate and translucent.

We followed the beach around, as our Dutch friends recommended, and soon we came upon a strange and bizarre live-aboard community. Twenty or thirty catamarans, of various shapes and sizes rested on the sand (it was shortly after low water). Some were without sails, some were without masts, and many looked as though they hadn’t been away from this little corner of the island in years.

DSCI4613But they were all inhabited. On the land, right by the high water mark, some owners had constructed lean-tos, with make-shift kitchens and living-rooms, made from scrap timber, tarpaulin, old garden furniture, and even a dilapidated looking brown velvet living room suite of furniture. There were shell gardens and washing lines and many of the boats had one or more pet dogs.

The lean-to home of one catamaran owner

The lean-to home of one catamaran owner

As we walked along I said good morning to the people going about their daily chores on their catamarans. They replied in accents from England, Germany, Holland and Spain, and the youngest person I spoke to was about 65 years old! Since then I’ve met some younger inhabitants with young children.

Later in the day I met a woman on the path to the beach. She was deeply tanned and carried an empty 10 litre water bottle that she refilled at the public tap. On a whim, I asked if she lived on one of the boats. In one of the most upper-class English accents I have ever heard, she confirmed that she did. She looked to be well over 70, and I found out from someone else later that she is 74, and lives alone on her boat with a lot of cats! She told me that many people live in the little lagoon year round. She herself is staying on this winter for the first time, having wintered in Vilamoura in previous years. She was quick to point out that she lived on the other side of the inlet from the boats with the lean-tos and shell gardens. ‘This is a nature reserve’, she said. ‘But those Germans always have to keep busy doing something’!

Clothes hanging out to dry

Clothes hanging out to dry

From the catamaran community, the girls and I walked through a cool salt-water stream which floods at high water. It was delightful and, as the fog returned, it grew blissfully cool. We found some more interesting shells in the stream and then spent the rest of the day on the beach. It was hot but foggy at first, with very poor visibility, which made for a slightly eerie swimming experience. After an hour, the fog lifted and we stayed in the water for most of the day, determined to keep cool. Katie delighted in ducking her head into the waves, and she even swam a few strokes independently for the first time! It was one of the most pleasant days I’ve had – and that’s saying something.

Enjoying the cool of the lagoon

Enjoying the cool of the lagoon

Arviat on the Algarve

DSCI4595This is more like it. This is my kind of place. We left Albufeira early in the morning to enter the channel that leads to Faro and Olhão at high water. Our plan was to anchor behind the barrier islands in the Rio Formosa. We had no idea what the place would be like, but the pilot book said that Olhão itself was far less tourist-orientated than other places along the Algarve. We anchored behind Ilha da Culatra, hoping to stay for a couple of days. We’ve been here for over a week and are loathe to leave!

The red Algarve cliffs end a few miles before Faro, replaced by an incredibly flat low-lying sandy coastline. Ilha da Culatra is one of a few barrier islands sheltering the sandbank littered waters on its northern shore from the breaking waves of the Atlantic. As soon as we entered the channel leading to the lee side of the islands, I exclaimed ‘It’s Arviat on the Algarve’, while Julian simultaneously said, ‘It’s the Mississippi’.

Even Arviat isn't this flat!

Even Arviat isn’t this flat!

The small village of Culatra lies only a couple of miles from two other villages, accessible across the sand at low water, but considered to be on separate islands. Ilha da Culatra is flat and mostly treeless, and from the sea it is a tiny thread of land separating the blue sea from the huge blue sky. It is the vastness of the sky, the flatness of the land, the lack of trees, and the profusion of small boats resting on the shore in front of the cluster of low houses that first reminded me so much of Arviat, my beloved ‘other home’ in the Canadian Arctic.

We anchored a short distance from the tiny village, and I couldn’t wait to get ashore.

Culatra's 'lively' town centre!

Culatra’s ‘lively’ town centre!

There are no cars; just a few small tractors to transport goods and people. The village is built on soft sand, with paved footpaths (with street names recalling local history and celebrated local fishermen) leading between houses, to the harbour, the shops, post office, library, the little school and the community hall. Very little grows here, but outside many of the small white-washed houses, in plots protected by fishing nets from the multitude of large and free-roaming island dogs, the villagers grow vegetables and fruits in the unforgiving sand. Brassicas are ubiquitous, and there’s the occasional sad-looking tomato plant. Lime trees are scattered around the village and we found a pomegranate tree growing outside one house (it’s safe from me…pomegranate is the one fruit I dislike). None of the plants or trees looked particularly fertile – indeed they looked like a lot of effort for very little return.

A typical vegetable patch

A typical vegetable patch

The island relies on fishing and tourism. Indeed, it was fishermen from the mainland who first settled the island in the 19th Century, attracted by its rich marine life, and eventually building homes and founding a community. These days the island men fish for sea bass and sea bream and cultivate mussels, and if the activity around the harbour is anything to go by, fishing is thriving. The island’s women gather clams from the beaches at low water, and we met clam-pickers carrying buckets and baskets and nets heavy with clams at each low tide. I was thrilled to see two octopuses hanging out to dry on the clothes line of one home!


You thought I was joking, didn't you!

You thought I was joking, didn’t you!

The island also takes advantage of the many day-tripping tourists who arrive by ferry. There are a surprising number of cafes and bars, some of which appear to be people’s homes, converted for the long summer into hostelries. Service is simple and informal – uncapping a bottle of cold beer pulled from the fridge is the extent of it!

On 19th July 1987, the village en masse refused to participate in the national elections. They were protesting against the lack of assistance they received from the Portuguese government, feeling they were being forgotten and left behind. Their protest caught the government’s attention and since then the islanders have seen many improvements to their lives – the island got electricity in 1993, a health centre in 2006, water supply and sanitation in 2009, and a scheduled ferry service to Faro in 2010.

A typical 'street' in the village

A typical ‘street’ in the village

The island is a nature reserve, so no further development is allowed to take place. As a result, the newest houses look at least 30 or 40 years old, with only a few community buildings, such as the school, dating from more recently.

We arrived onshore late in the afternoon of our first day here. We quickly surveyed the village and then walked across the island to the expansive beach on the south side, where the Atlantic rolls in and crashes on the shore in waves just the perfect size for the children to play in. Since then, we have visited the beach every day, where the swimming is excellent!

Fun on the beach

Fun on the beach

In an effort to protect the delicate sand dunes and salt marshes from the constant train of visitors each day, a raised walk-way runs from the village to the beach.

Back in the village, Lily and Katie played with some local children at the playground, while Julian and I sat and drank a beer at a nearby bar. Large dogs roamed freely, in and out of the playground, ignoring the children, minding their own business.

I long to see the island in winter, when the tourists have departed. I suggested to Lily that she and Katie go to school here, and we could live in one of these tiny houses, pick clams and send Julian out bass fishing! My little fantasy!

Celtic skin, GAA and kite surfing

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

‘Mum, they’re speaking English’. I hear this from Lily five or six times an hour every time we step off Carina. We are in the Algarve and, for the first time since leaving the UK, we are not the lone British-Irish family amongst the majority local Spanish and Portuguese. Even in Nazaré, the first tourist town we came to on the Portuguese coast, most of the tourists were Portuguese. But here on the Algarve we are surrounded by Irish and, to a lesser extent, British holiday-makers. Everything is geared towards tourism here – waiters, shop assistants and tour operators all speak English (indeed many are English or Irish); menus and signs are written in English; and the shops sell a jaw dropping array of tourist tat. In Alvor, on Saturday evening, I was drawn trance-like into an Irish pub, by the sounds of Gaelic football on the television, and watched ten minutes of the Mayo-Kerry replay before I had to leave. Football, especially at this time of year, chokes me up.

And because we are in a tourist region, prices for everyday food items are staggeringly high. Julian came home earlier today with a few bags of basics, with his wallet 45 euro lighter! If it weren’t for his foraging we would all have to go on crash diets! Earlier this week he found a roadside tree laden with ripe figs – my hero!!

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Each day we meet other families who assume that we too are holiday-makers and we find ourselves living in a strange liminal zone of not being holiday-makers but not quite being not tourists either. To Portuguese we are indistinguishable from the hordes of other short-term visitors, and gone are the pleasant conversations with locals, and the special treatment shown to Lily and Katie. We meet Irish families who have just arrived, skin white as sheets, and those about to depart, skin red as lobsters. I hadn’t realised how tanned I had become until I compared myself to my compatriots!

In Alvor, just along the coast from the large resort town of Lagos, we anchored amidst kite surfers, dreaded jet-skiers (grrrrr), and boat loads of tourists on hour-long trips along the coastline. As we came into the marina at Albufeira, we ran the gauntlet of RIBs packed to capacity with holiday-makings, speeding in and out of the harbour at a rate of one every thirty seconds.

Today, I discovered the greatest thing about Albufeira – between the marina and the town is Rua de Sir Cliff Richard!!! Seemingly, he lives here, though whether he lives on the street bearing his name, I don’t know.

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles....

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles….

...and miles

…and miles

The Algarve is beautiful, and it’s easy to see why it is so popular with holiday-makers. The yellow cliffs with their profusion of sea stacks and caves, the seemingly endless golden sandy beaches, the warm sea water, and the great weather – who wouldn’t want to come here. But I miss the quiet remote beaches of Galicia. Like I said before, crowds of people overwhelm me, and the noise of these overly-busy town centres quickly make me want to retreat to the quiet of Carina. Bars blaring pop music from MTV (or whatever it is people watch these days), vendors selling noisy battery operated children’s toys on the streets, drunk young tourists. I’m not turning into an old curmudgeon – I always abhorred this stuff.

Thankfully, winter is on its way and the tourists will be in decline for a few months. Maybe I should just stay home with a good book until then!

Racing to the Algarve

We slipped out of the marina at Doca de Alcântara in Lisbon, knowing that over the next few days we would cover a lot of ground, as we made our way to the Algarve. The coast between Lisbon and the south of Portugal is sparsely populated, with long stretches offering no harbour or protection to a passing vessel.

I made supper while Julian sailed us down the River Tagus, back to Cascais. We ‘spanked’ along (to unashamedly steal a phrase from Chris on Tallulah May) aided by the current, registering 10.1 knots at one point – I had no idea Carina could hit such speeds.

After a night at anchor in Cascais we turned south early in the morning while the girls still slept. Our 53-mile passage to Sines was uneventful. We motored for a few hours until we had enough wind to sail and then averaged 5 knots for the rest of the day. We weren’t sure what to expect of Sines. We knew it was a large cargo terminal with petro-chemical industries, and a woman I met in Lisbon referred to it as ‘the sad town’. Back in the early 1970s Sines had been a quiet fishing village, but was rapidly transformed by the building of the cargo terminal and industrial port. However, the pilot book assured us that once you got beyond the harbour wall, the heavy industry was out of sight.

Early morning Sines from the sea

Early morning Sines from the sea

We found both to be true. As we sailed into Sines we saw a line of cargo ships and oil tankers waiting to enter the port and we were hit by that smell of heavy industry recognisable to anyone who has ever visited Port Talbot in Wales. Stinky! Yet where we anchored was pleasant, with a pretty beach and a nice looking town. Passage making was our priority, so we didn’t leave Carina. We arrived in Sines at 7pm and departed at 7am on our next leg.

The next day began in the same uneventful way, motoring first until we had the wind to sail. I longed to see a whale and had even dreamed of one while I slept in Sines. But it wasn’t to be. Apart from a couple of dolphins and a sun fish between Cascais and Sines, we have seen precious little wildlife along the Portuguese coast.

Sines to the Enseada de Sagres, on the south coast, was 64 miles and we hoped to make it before dark. It was a hot day, but with a pleasant breeze. At 4pm, out of nowhere, a fog rolled in across the sea. It was a strange sensation. The sun still shone down hot and bright, but we had visibility of only about 50 metres when the fog was at its worst, and we still had a good wind to sail. Double watch, fog horn blowing, high alert! We would soon round the Cabo de Sao Vicente, the sharp south-western corner of Portugal.

We were blind, navigating by our chart plotter and making provision in case the chart plotter failed. Thankfully that didn’t happen. The pilot book told us we were more likely to hear Cabo de Sao Vicente before we saw it, as fog is such a common occurrence on this coast. We did indeed hear the fog horn long before we saw the cape. We were past the cape and had changed tack to the east when the fog lifted. And what a sight it was! The sheer cliffs of the south coast of Portugal, the Cabo de Sao Vicente a dramatic right angle marking the south-western corner of Europe.

Spectacular Cabo de Sao Vicente - Europe's southwest corner

Spectacular Cabo de Sao Vicente – Europe’s southwest corner

We were relieved when the fog lifted, but our relief was short-lived. Almost immediately the wind got up to Force 6, gusting to Force 8. We were also negotiating the sprinkling of lobster pot buoys and tunny nets and with some difficulty we pulled in the sails and motored the last mile around the impressive Ponta de Sagres into the Enseada de Sagres, our anchorage for the night. The little bay was surrounded by high red, flat-topped cliffs, and the beach looked inviting, but the wind was too strong and it was too late to go ashore. After the fog and the winds and our rounding of Portugal, we thought it was time to crack open the bottle of Rioja, a birthday present from my friend Stewart Barr back in April! It was worth the wait.

It was a windy night, the boat rocking and jolting and coming between me and my night’s sleep. But we only had a short distance to travel on the last day of our marathon passage from Lisbon. It was windy – Force 6 gusting to 7 – but we only put out the mizzen sail and a little genoa. After half an hour the wind died somewhat, giving us a delightful sail along the red Martian cliffs. The coast was desolate at first, but then the tourist resorts began to appear. After 15 miles we passed Lagos, the biggest tourist town along this coast and a couple of miles later we entered the beach-enclosed lagoon at Alvor. Four days, four anchorages, 150 miles, and here we are in an azure blue lagoon, surrounded by empty golden sandy beaches, and decent-sized towns a walk along the shore in either direction.

Horray, we’re in the Algarve, and here we plan to stay for the next five weeks!

Three months later

It’s exactly three months since June 2nd, when we slipped from our berth at Plymouth Yacht Haven. In that time we have sailed over 1200 nautical miles (approximately 1320 statute miles, 2222 km). That may not seem like much. Some people I know commute almost that much each week. But we travel at an average speed of 4 nautical miles an hour, and we have spent long periods of time at anchor and in marinas, exploring as we go.

Since June 2nd we have sailed from southwest England to southwest Portugal, from Plymouth to our current anchorage in Alvor. We have seen dolphins and sunfish, gannets and terns and gulls. We have played on beautiful beaches and visited UNESCO world heritage sites. We have come to love foods we had never heard of before (pimientos de padron, paraguayos), and we have met some amazing people – both locals and fellow sailors. It has been a good three months.

Katie gets to grips with Portuguese farm animals!

Katie gets to grips with Portuguese farm animals!

It took me some weeks to get used to not going to work every day. I finished work on a Friday and we set sail on Monday, not giving any of us much time to adjust to living together 24/7. I was grouchy during the adjustment phase, missing the independence afforded by going to work every day, shutting myself in my office from 8am to 5.30pm, my own boss, completely in control of my working day. Despite leaving full-time paid employment, I continue to work and I have a few writing projects on the go, with deadlines to meet. At first I was frustrated by the constant interruptions – of trying to write and think and read amidst a maelstrom of chattering children and a talkative husband. Finding time for myself and my work was something of a battle. I can’t say that I have completely grown used to being with Julian and the girls all day every day, but I have adapted and adjusted, finding time most days to get my own work done. I think I’ve become more chilled out (although Julian might have something different to say!). I have (mostly) accepted that I work more slowly, and that things can get accomplished, but at a different pace.

We’re all had to adjust. Lily and Katie briefly went to school last year and so they have had to adjust to being each other’s main companion. At first they got on well, but when the honeymoon was over, they drove each other crazy. I think they’ve come out the other side of that now as they seem to generally enjoy each others’ company. Although there are occasional squabbles, they generally get a kick out of each other, playing imaginative games all day long.

Julian has had to get used to having all three of us around, but (on the surface at least) he has coped well with the change of pace and the amount of oestrogen he’s exposed to every day.

My little feminists have been chanting 'Votes for women, votes for women'!

My little feminists have been chanting ‘Votes for women, votes for women’!

We all find ways to have our own space. Julian likes to walk and explore on his own, and I like to immerse myself in a good book. Lily, like me, flits between reading fiction and non-fiction. Katie likes to quietly draw and play with her toys. One way or the other, we all manage to create spaces for ourselves aboard Carina.

But of course, the best thing about the past three months has been the time we have spent together. I have slowed down to the girls’ pace and, despite the great cathedrals, museums and historic sites we’ve visited and learned from, it is those playful days on the beach that I treasure most, when we have all the time in the world to talk and play.

Who can say where we will be three months from now. But if it is as good as these past three months then I have a lot to look forward too.

Hot in the city

We are here, we are here, we are here!

We are here, we are here, we are here!

Lisbon in August was perhaps not our brightest idea. It was hot and we quickly got all citied out. The thing is, I enjoy cities much more in winter; they are cooler and have fewer tourists. Give me London in December rather than July, Rome in January rather than September. I’ve loved New York in March and Budapest in February. Perhaps I will return to Lisbon one day when it is not so stifling, and give the city the attention it deserves.

We sailed into Cascais, a well-to-do town that is effectively a suburb of Lisbon. As we approached along the coast we passed modern mansions nestled amongst the trees, all boxy and glassy and looking like they’d come straight from an episode of Grand Designs. Julian was later told, by the 65-year old woman manning the desk at the tourist office, that those mansions are where all the rich kids ‘do drugs and f*** each other’!

Carina's in there somewhere!

Carina’s in there somewhere!

We anchored in the harbour at Cascais, forsaking the only marina we have ever come across that has a crèche! However, it would have cost us almost €50 a night. It seems as though lots of other yachties thought the price too high – the anchorage was crowded and the marina was empty.

We were surrounded by a multitude of crowded beaches, backed by a blend of 14th Century fortresses, 16th Century churches, and more of that 21st Century glassy boxy architecture, all making for a very pleasant vista. We had arrived in the midst of the town’s 650th anniversary celebrations and there were free concerts on a stage on the beach every night.


Our first morning in Cascais was pleasant. We visited the Tower of Santo António and the Fortress of Nossa Senhora da Luz, wonderfully restored since the rediscovery of the latter in 1987 and major archaeological work in the past decade. From there we walked the short distance to an amazing park with a great playground and multitude of shady trees. We ate our picnic lunch in the company of a flock of hens!

After that – well, let’s just say I’ve had better times elsewhere. Julian took the girls off for a couple of hours to give me some internet time. I found an almost empty bar in the marina that had free Wifi for customers and, as I and every other cruiser I’ve met over the past few months does, I ordered a coffee and asked for the Wifi code. The staff were none too friendly and, as I was about to order a second coffee, Wifi was turned off. I was the only person amongst the three customers who was (a) using Wifi and (b) not eating a whopping great plate of steak and chips. I got out of there quickly and eventually found an Irish pub where I ordered another drink and got online again.

Later, Julian went in search of some items for the boat and the girls and I spent the rest of the afternoon on a very crowded, very noisy beach. I hate being amongst great throngs of people. It stresses me out and makes me feel ill at ease. If I want to swim, I’m nervous about leaving my bag unattended. If I want to read, I’m nervous about taking my eyes off the kids and losing them in the crowds. Give me a quiet deserted beach any day of the week.

The next day we took the train to Lisbon. It is a beautiful city, but we all came close to melting. Highlights, for the girls and I, were a great little ice cream parlour and the Museum of Fashion and Design. Even I was surprised by Lily and Katie’s enthusiasm for the exhibition of 20th Century furniture.


We left the anchorage at Cascais the next day and sailed up the River Tagus to Doca de Alcântara, under the suspension bridge and in Lisbon itself. Julian serviced the engine, made some repairs and cleaned the hull of Carina, while the girls and I explored. The marina was adjacent to the Museum of the Orient, where we spent three hours one day. I learned a lot about Portugal’s historic and cultural relationships with Goa, China, Thailand, Indonesia and India, and I expanded what I already knew about the Portuguese in Japan in the 16th Century, and brought me back to a trip with some friends to Goto Reto island in Nagasaki-ken in 1996 and a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the cliff. The highlight for Lily and Katie was the shadow puppet exhibition that took up the entire second floor. We saw shadow puppets from India and Indonesia and watched a great documentary about Chinese shadow puppetry.

If there's a tree in a city, the girls will climb it!

If there’s a tree in a city, the girls will climb it!

In Belem we visited the Museum of Electricity, predominantly to escape the heat of the unshaded banks of the Tagus. But it was well worth a visit. It wasn’t so much a museum of electricity as an old power station that had been transformed into a museum of itself. I loved it. But then, I’m a sucker for such silliness!

On our last afternoon in Alcântara I found a wall of forty murals commemorating 40 years since the April 25th 1974 revolution and depicting workers’ uprisings from around the world. They were amazing, and led to an impromptu lesson on workers’ rights, socialism and other such delights for the girls.




The sultry heat, throngs of tourists and noise of the city stressed me out. I’m a cold weather country bumpkin, and proud of it! A few days at sea, far from land, far from other people, with sea breezes to keep me cool – the perfect antidote to our few days in the city.

Making friends

One of the things people often commented on as we prepared to set sail was the potential lack of children for Lily and Katie to play with. This didn’t concern me too much, as every book and blog I have read about sailing with children has reassured me there are plenty of other sailing parents out there, all eager to find play mates for their children at every opportunity.


Before we even left Plymouth, Lily and Katie played with the three boys aboard Tarquilla, who had recently returned from a couple of years on the north coast of Spain. Despite the fact that the older two boys were twice Lily’s age, all five children played together with great enthusiasm.

In La Coruña we met the Dutch family aboard Tofino and our paths continued to cross as we sailed the Galician Rias. Though that little boy and girl were slightly too young for Lily and Katie to properly play with, the girls really enjoyed having them on board Carina and sharing their toys.

In Baiona we found ourselves anchored beside Tallulah May and, before our families had officially met, our girls and their 4-year old and 6-year old girls were shouting over to each other and bringing their toys into the cockpit for a show and tell. Over the past couple of weeks the four girls have played together at every opportunity – on each other’s boats, in parks, on beaches. This family from Somerset has also lived in one of the Plymouth marinas so the girls (and their parents) have much in common. The older of the two taught Lily and Katie to draw trees and animals and that one lesson has revolutionised the girls’ drawing abilities!

In Peniche we met three Swiss children aboard Lucy. They played aboard Carina and we briefly visited Lucy. The middle child was exactly Lily’s age and his sister only a couple of years older. Together the children talked and played and read stories.

And then there are the local children that Lily and Katie meet and play with on beaches and in playgrounds. Some children, like the amazing 9-year old we met at Louro, speak English, but most don’t. It doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve seen my girls play hide-and-seek and tag with Spanish girls and boys, somehow working out the rules even though they don’t share a common language.

While the girls don’t have opportunities to play with other children on a daily basis, they make friends quickly when they have the chance. It is delightful to see the confidence with which they engage with other children (and their parents) and to see the impact those brief encounters have on their abilities and on the way they play with each other.