Pipistrelle in the Rio Guadiano
Pipistrelle then had a new experience, venturing 20 nm inland, up the Rio Guadiano. This river marks the southern border between Portugal and Spain, with a large suspension bridge just north of attractive Ayamonte. The main span has an air height of 20 metres, with our mast having a height of 22 metres above water level, excluding the antenna. We went through at low water, but even then there did not appear to be more than 1 metre of clearance.
The river twists and turns, and the further one travels, the steeper the banks become.
They largely support lush bamboo, and at intervals small boats are moored, with a tiny access through the canes to a dwelling beyond. We passed several small villages, until eventually reaching Sanlucar de Guadiana on the Spanish bank, and Alcoutim on the Portuguese side. For the first time, anchoring safely proved a real challenge, as the river bed was either smooth rock which provided no purchase for the anchor, or our position would be too close to other moored yachts. We eventually took ourselves further up river and anchored in 11 metres. Listening in the evening sunset to the delightful bird song on the west bank, and goat herd bells on the east bank with pretty Alcoutim as the backdrop was a unique experience. Indeed being at anchor between two countries in different time zones was very special – the hourly chiming of church bells in each village adding to the magic.
On each side of the river were castles, the Spanish one towering above the landscape, provided excellent all round views into Portugal and Spain. The characters of the villages were very different, and it made a change to be in Spain in the morning, and Portugal for a late lunch and afternoon. The only drawback to a quiet and enjoyable anchorage, was the large amount of dead bamboo cane floating up and down the river on the tide. Overnight a large amount snagged on the anchor chain, building up a raft several inches thick. The quickest method of disposal was to pull the bamboo using the dinghy as a platform, and not by using the boat hook! That evening we identified the very same lumps of wood and bamboo floating upstream again – we had only cleared it 12 hours earlier, and it was back again the following morning!
After 48 hours it was time to head downstream again, to anchor just north of the bridge have lunch and wait for low tide. Here on the Spanish side we saw a massive housing development built overlooking a golf complex and the river, which had obviously become a victim of the recession. While some of the dwellings were finished and occupied, the majority were unfinished, with huge cranes standing idle. A veritable eyesore!
Most of the Algarve coastline is shallow, thus making arrival and departure from the harbours subject to a rising tide, and often fairly close to high water. Having navigated the bridge we then had to anchor again, and wait for sufficient water to be able to leave the river and access the next port of call, either Isla Canela or Isla Cristina.
We used the time to go ashore briefly with Ann-Britt and Ingemar to Vila Real de Santo Antonio (Portugal). A phone call ahead confirmed that Marina Cristina would not accept any boat larger than 12 metres, so we spent the next two nights at Isla Canela, and altered our watches to Spanish time!
A chance discussion on the pontoon the following day proved yet again how small the world is! We met Geoff Bruce and Sarah, on their Hallberg Rassy, Swedish Rhapsody of Sark. They are a delightful couple who had met while sailing with Clipper Ventures, and then had decided to buy their own boat. Having completed the Atlantic crossing, and on their way back home in 2006, they met the former owners of our Wauquiez, Stephen and Katherine Paine on Batrachian (now Pipistrelle), at Terceira in the Azores. We enjoyed a fun evening with Geoff and Sarah, and hopefully will meet again in the future.