The cold never bothered me anyway

The other side of the river wasn’t there this morning. We wondered, as we walked up to school just before 9am, if Portugal had drifted away in the night, and if so, was it by accident or design. I opted for design and guessed it was merrily floating across the Atlantic, making its way to Brazil for the winter.

Turned out it was there all along. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It was just shrouded in cold dense fog. Man alive, it’s cold here right now. Not Arctic cold or even Ireland cold, but cold nonetheless. This time last year we were still swimming in the river at the Praia Fluvial in Alcoutim. We weren’t long back from our sojourn in the UK, and we basked in balmy November sunshine.

We’re getting the sunshine alright, but I defy anyone to strip down to their swimwear and plunge into the river (my mad husband accepted…but that’s a blog post for another day). It started gradually a couple of weeks ago. The nights grew colder and we all needed an extra blanket on our beds. Then the coats came out for the walk to school in the morning. By the end of the school day, at 2pm, it was t-shirt weather, so the girls frequently forgot to bring their coats home. For the past few days they’ve been wearing their coats to and from school.

The day came when I took the electric heater out of storage, at first to warm the boat up for twenty minutes when we got up in the morning. Now it’s running in the evenings too, both to warm up the boat and in a bid to stave off the dreaded condensation that comes from four people breathing inside a closed up boat.

Two nights ago the hot water bottles came out, the blankets were no longer enough to keep us cosy in bed. And this morning I swapped our bag of summer hats for our winter bag of gloves, woolly hats, neck warmers and scarves.

I met someone earlier who commented, ‘You must be cold’. Not a chance. In my woolly hat, and three warm layers underneath my jacket, I was snug as a bug walking through town. Maybe my nose was cold, but not much else.

There’s something nice about snuggling in for winter. Cold nights under blankets, brisk crisp days, hot tea and butter melting on toast, hearty soups made from winter vegetables, roasted chestnuts straight from the oven, hot brandy with cloves. I’ve known colder winters, that’s for sure, and I know this one will be brief. I can either fight it or embrace it. I say embrace it.

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.