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!

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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!