The Prologue – Winter 2008-9
This period was a hive of activity after our return home from Portugal in mid-October. Initially we set about sorting out the cottage after the flood damage in the summer, and by Christmas had everything as it should be.
In the meantime, another project was keeping us busy – finding a suitable apartment to purchase as a bolthole and to store our furniture in during the time our cottage is let. Buying property in a falling market has to be one of the most difficult things, as everybody believes theirs is worth more than it really is! By mid-January some reality had pervaded the market, but with the first property the vendors pulled out, the second we pulled out, and we complete on the third on the 6th May, which meant we have had to put the furniture into storage!
We visited Pipistrelle for a few days’ refit towards the end of February together with Nick Webster, who will be joining us for the transatlantic crossing in November. He was a tower of strength, and between us we fitted solar panels, repaired the davits and antifouled the hull, together with a number of smaller jobs. Elaine did an excellent job in provisioning, feeding us and sorting out the interior. The whole boat was covered in a thick layer of dust and sand, but we only removed it from the areas we were working on, pending a good scrub down in April.
Back home again it was time to let the cottage, and Moundsmere Estate Management came up trumps with tenants who wanted to move in on 6th April. It was also time to find a new home for our cat, Maddie, and Sue Kipling, who had helped to look after her last summer, recommended a curate in Hartley Wintney. Shirley is now spoiling Maddie to bits!
April – a busy month!
Bob flew out to Povoa on the 1st April, to be joined by Elaine on Monday 6th April – it seems a long time ago now! Pipistrelle was still out of the water, the weather was wet and cold, and we succumbed to using the heating in the evenings.
We hired a car for a few days just after Elaine arrived primarily to travel to Lisbon to apply for US visas – a long story, but we are planning to sail up the intra coastal waterway on the east coast of the US, and since we’re yachties with no guaranteed return ticket to the homeland, we have to get fully blown visas. The waiting time in London for an interview was 38 days, so we thought we’d try Lisbon instead with a vastly reduced waiting time of 2 days. The official did tick us off slightly for not having used the embassy at home but we now have the relevant 10 year visa in our passports that were couriered back to us at the marina in Povoa.
We stayed overnight at a hotel in Lisbon, had a great meal in the city and a stroll around but decided not to tarry there as we would be visiting again on our journey south. Instead we headed north and visited the charming town of Obidos with its medieval walls and aqueduct before driving on to Leiria which has another medieval castle to impress the tourist.
We also travelled north to Viano do Castelo, a harbour that we missed on the way south. This town is very attractive with a number of roads closed to traffic, making wandering around and enjoying pavement cafes far more pleasant. There is a church high on the hill overlooking the town, and the visibility was so good, we could see Povoa in the distance.
Another town that impressed us was Braga, a holy city in as much that Easter is a major festival, with banners of purple everywhere, and one whole street closed to traffic and very attractive hymnal music being played. The churches were really spectacular, and one felt that the occasion was special, in a way that surpassed Easter at home. Here are a few impressions:
The weather around Easter was changeable to say the least – it did stay dry and warm for a communal barbecue in the marina at lunchtime on Sunday when Elaine also managed to get the build up of laundry washed and dried. The story after that was one of continual heavy showers, strong breezes and cool temperatures which made working outside unpleasant. But we managed to clean the mast and rigging (or rather Bob went to the top with Elaine controlling his ascent & descent on the winch) and put on all the running rigging. Two sailing friends, Nick (who helped us in February with refit) & Paul arrived on the 21st April and were with us for a week to get to know the boat and how it behaves before joining us on the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) in November.
Whilst there was still a lot of work to do, we had a major delay being launched, due to the newly overhauled travel hoist, that should have been operational before Easter. Its return to Povoa was delayed by two weeks, then after arrival it ran for a couple of days only to break down again just before we were supposed to be launched!! As you may imagine, frustration levels were running high, coupled with the fact that we discovered just days before our departure that the motor controlling the genoa had suffered from ingress of water and needed replacing. So we were reliant on the main and staysail to Lisbon, where a new motor was delivered. Don’t even think about the cost!
We were grateful throughout Pipistrelle’s winter layup to the continual support of Tomané who runs his own yacht repair company, Náutica Tomané. He is forever cheerful and smiling, and nothing is too much trouble. He also has trades people at his fingertips from computers to stainless steel welding. Apart from taking care of the lift and storage during the winter, he also installed new valves and skin fittings that were at the end of their life, and completed numerous other jobs that needed skill and the right tools. In particular his carpenter visited us 48 hours before our departure, and created beautiful hardwood sink covers in the galley and a new much needed additional book shelf in the aft port cabin. Thank you Tomané!
We finally left Povoa on the 22nd, and had a gentle introductory sail to Leixoes, a major shipping port, where we simply anchored overnight and left early the next morning (it’s pretty industrialised there). It was the perfect short sail to ensure that systems were working, and for Paul & Nick to begin to get the feel of the boat.
Our next stop was Figueira da Foz – about 65 miles. Ingemar and Ann-Britt our Swedish friends arrived in Povoa to prepare their boat on the 16th April, and it was great to see them again. We were invited aboard their yacht for drinks & tapas in Figueira – an invitation they insisted on honouring even they had had to be towed into the marina by another boat having got rope caught around their propeller earlier in the afternoon! Our friendship continues even though we have not seen each other since October, and will, we are sure in the future. One of the nicest features of cruising is the international community and the people one meets, and the friendships that build as a result.
We then moved on to Peniche, a major fishing harbour, where the evening temperatures again dipped making the stroll ashore for supper bracing to say the least. But we were rewarded by a delicious meal – mixed fish platter for four people accompanied by Vinho Verde – at the Restaurante Popular that features in the Lonely Planet Guide. The reported heavy wash caused by fishing vessels happily was not experienced, and we set off early the next day to Cascais.
Cascais is almost a suburb of Lisbon, being some 8 nm west, and has a very smart marina, which was not only good value, but on arrival we were taken aback to receive a gift of a bottle of good red wine. Now that would be a surprise in an MDL marina on the south coast of the UK!! Unfortunately our stay was brief, as we needed to be at Lisbon on Sunday evening, and so left at midday the next day.
We had good sailing as we headed south, the prevailing winds in Portugal being from the North, but had to be constantly on our guard with very poorly marked fishing floats lurking in our path. Our sail up the river Tagus to Lisbon was exciting with 30 knots of wind from the NE, and we were privileged to pass some of Lisbon’s historic sights en route. Built in 1515 the Torre de Belém guards the entrance to Lisbon’s harbour. Again on the north bank, and built much later in 1960 stands the huge, imposing Padrão dos Descobrimentos (the Discoveries Monument). Passing under the Ponte 25 Abril suspension bridge the noise from road and rail traffic was deafening as the whole bridge is built of steel, even the road surface is steel grids. Looking up one is presented with the strange sight of being able to see the underside of cars and lorries! On the south bank stands the immense statue of Christ, built to commemorate Portugal’s neutrality during World War II. Once the small swing bridge at the dock entrance had been opened, we berthed in the Doca do Alcantara to await the Fischer Panda generator engineer visit to us on Monday to replace a bearing and other maintenance work.
The sights of the Tagus in pictures:
But before that, we took a Sunday evening run ashore to the city by tram, and after a walk from the Praça do Comércio through the Baixa district, took the Elevador do Lavra funicular built in 1884 up to the Restauradores area, and then enjoyed an excellent fish dinner in a crowded restaurant in one of the many tiny streets.
Paul left us on Monday to fly home and kindly took with him the new cruising chute bag, which was 4 metres too short! Though we did manage to test and fly the cruising chute, the short bag made taking it down in strong winds dangerous. We’ve also had problems with leaking pipes and heads (=loos). Bob seems to have been crawling around in the engine room mopping up water or has had his head down a loo for days…… However, most of those problems are now solved, but two pumps still need servicing, and more pipes replacing.
Nick unfortunately decided he had to leave us the following day because changed crew plans meant he needed to bring forward by a couple of weeks getting his own yacht (based in southern Brittany) ready for the summer sailing season.
It was sad to say ‘adieu’ to Paul and Nick – they are great shipmates, extremely competent and confident on a yacht they were unfamiliar with. We enjoyed their company immensely and look forward to welcoming them back on board later in the year. We are indebted to Paul, especially for climbing to the top of the mast at sea to free a halyard, and to Nick not least for acting as co-cruising chute tester on the foredeck and for fitting the new motor for the genoa.
A May blog will follow at the end of the month and cover our travels as far as Lagos and beyond. Our plans after Lagos are to explore the Algarve, then head for Spain and Gibraltar followed by the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, crossing back to Spain again, and possibly the Balearics. Mid-September we’ll be sailing to Madeira and then on to the Canaries where we hope to cruise for about a month before joining the other participants for the ARC that starts on 22nd November in Las Palmas. We should finish the rally in St. Lucia, Caribbean mid-December.