#10 Lisbon – Rio Guadiana

We left Cascais for the algarve in a hurry, to use a weather window before more Southerlies set in. The wind was variable, the navigation boring, but Cape st Vincent was beautiful and it was a relief to get into the flat water on its far side after the endless swell of the west coast.

In Lagos we picked up an old friend of mine, who played the banjo and got seasick in the anchorage.

Marcus hadn’t sailed much before, and I’m not sure if we quite put him off for life, but I think we probably came pretty close. We sailed to Portimao, a mere 7 miles away, and didn’t exceed two knots the whole way. Precious little wind, swell on the beam, and for 5 hours we drifted along with the sails slapping around and poor Marcus lying down below cursing me.

Cape st Vincent. We seem to be facing the wrong way in this photo.
Mandatory dolphin photo.

In Portimao it rained and I ate terrible pizza and it rained. The dogs were angry and so were the clouds, and the locals too, so at the first sign of some wind we sailed out of the harbour into a sultry and ominous evening. Marcus the scot had already snuck away in the dead of night.

As we made our way east with two reefs in, the sky blackened and banks of thunderclouds came rolling across from the Atlantic. Night fell, and we saw several fronts pass to the south; obscene, strobing, higher dimensional raves, thundering across the sea and the sky. We passed under the magnificent lighthouse at Faro, and then all at once the heavens tore themselves open on top of us and electricity and rain poured into the sea all around. With howling wind and lightening in every direction there was not a lot we could do but get the grab bags and fire extinguishers ready, just in case. I haven’t a clue wether a fire extinguisher would be any help in a wooden-boat-gets-struck-by-lightening scenario, but at least it made me feel a little more prepared. With no visibility, navigation was out the window too, so we hung on tight, hove-to, and waited it out.

Slowly the wind and rain calmed down, the lightening moved away, and some of my orifices began to think about unclenching.

The rest of the journey passed with relative ease, until we found ourselves sailing into a strong ebb tide at the entrance to the Rio Guadiana. We struggled up the river, and as it got more sheltered we almost came to a standstill (though we were still sailing at 3 or 4 kn through the water). As we slowly neared a pontoon in the town of Vila Real, there was an infuriating moment when we started losing ground and it seemed we would have to go back the way we came. Luckily a gust came, and we made the last 20 meters, finally tying up and feeling very pleased with ourselves for about ten seconds, until somebody came and told us we had to move. After an hour of polite negotiation with the marina staff (@#*¥!), the tide had turned, and we followed it upriver.

Going up the river – in Alcoutim

We sailed the 20M upriver in one flood tide, downwind for the first half, and then beating the rest of the way.

I have spent time in the Guadiana before, and have a few very good friends who live along the riverbank, so as we neared Sanlucar and Alcoutim (the Spanish and Portuguese villages, opposite each other), I saw various friendly faces waving from the shore. It was a definite milestone in my journey, being one of the first places I’d ever visited on a boat, and one that I had been intending to visit with Lorema since I bought her.

In the end we spent six weeks in that river! Six weeks of varnishing, painting, house-sitting, playing, varnishing, orange picking, almond eating, varnishing, antifouling, spinnaker pole making, poker playing, varnishing, cake eating, beer drinking, slack-lining, canoeing, varnishing, sailing, gossiping, guitar playing, relaxing, and varnishing. Times to be remembered, with friends old and new, that wouldn’t be done justice here in writing.

Pizza pirates!
Selecting bamboo for a spinnaker pole

4 tins of Epifanes and an empty wallet later, and Lorema was looking better than ever, every piece of woodwork glittering tantalisingly. Meanwhile, summer had been and gone, and autumn too, and it was November already! We made a break for it, determined not to be lured into staying there for ever.

I left the Guadiana with a happy heart and a load of new toys on the boat, all thanks to the enormous generosity of fellow sailors there who wanted to help me along my way – most notably Nick Skeets (Wylo II) who gave me an extra 15 fathoms of chain and a better sextant, and Ashley Butler (Martha Primrose), who gave me a spinnaker and a massive fishermans anchor, not to mention all the riverbank dwellers who helped me out daily with a million different things while I was on the river. They know who they are, and I am very grateful to them all.

House (and chicken) sitting.
Varnished hatch, new spinnaker, and new bamboo pole!

Down the river we drifted, occasionally sculling a little.. The sun rose, the breeze came and went, the new spinnaker went up and down, and finally out we popped like a cork, into the big blue ocean, full of waves, scary and foreign after our long sojourn in the river. We promptly dropped the anchor just outside the fairway and settled down to wait for some kind of breeze – next stop, Morocco!

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