Exploring by dinghy among the grottoes for an afternoon of snorkeling.
"OK, Paul! The anchor's off the bottom," I shouted from the bow, giving my mate the thumbs-up signal in case he couldn't hear me at the helm. He signaled back and slowly maneuvered the boat out of the anchorage off Praia da Mareia at Sagres, located at the southwest corner of Portugal. The day before, we had made our landfall here, completing our third transatlantic passage aboard Two-Step
, our home-built Classic 37 sloop. As Two-Step
slid quietly through the anchorage, I gave a few more cranks on our trusty Simpson-Lawrence 555 manual windlass. Our 45-pound CQR came up cleanly from the sand bottom into position on the bow roller. I locked the anchor into position with its pin, ready for easy deploying if needed in an emergency and for the next time we anchored along this picturesque coast—something we were eagerly looking forward to.
"Hey, Sher. We've got perfect conditions to sail wing and wing. We'll have a wonderful daysail to Lagos by the look of it," said Paul, looking happy and rested after his first full eight-hour sleep for a while. On passages the two of us keep an around-the-clock, "4-hours on, 4-hours off" watchkeeping routine. While we would have liked to stay anchored at Sagres for another night, we needed to check in at an official port to report to Customs, and replenish our supplies. Since we'd just completed an offshore passage, long hot showers at the marina and the convenience of a dock for a night or two were also calling. Today we would begin easting along the Algarve coast of Portugal, starting with a re-provisioning stop at the historic town of Lagos.
There are few joys like running wing and wing toward discoveries in a foreign country.
This was our second voyage to Portugal. On the first visit in 1990, we had made landfall further north in Lisbon. This time we were skipping the big city and its quaint cafes, theatres and museums that had been a salve for our sea-weary souls in favor of a month of gunk holing from Cabo Sao Vincente at the western end of the Algarve coast to Tavira at the eastern border with Spain. As a guide, we recommend the Imray Pilot RCC Atlantic Spain and Portugal
for its excellent harbor charts and color aerial photos were invaluable for exploring the area.
The 10-knot September breeze blew gently from the northwest, so we poled out the jib for a lovely downwind sail past the ochre sandstone cliffs and golden beaches. As the sun climbed the clear, blue sky throughout the morning and early afternoon, the towering cliffs went through a changing palette of colors ranging from yellow, pale green, rust, to orange. We passed traditional fishing boats bobbing gently at the base of the cliffs and in the countless small bays. As Ponta da Piedade came into view signifying our approach to Lagos, Paul and I dropped the downwind pole and prepared to round the rocky promontory. The cliff face was full of caves and grottoes, and we promised ourselves to come back and anchor in the lee of the headland to do some exploring.
We dropped the sails and entered the Lagos harbor, motoring past the 17th century fort on our port side. Children waved as we prepared our lines and fenders, then tied starboard-to at the fuel dock where we reported to Customs located at the marina office. When we'd checked into Portugal in the Azores as non-EU residents, we were required to purchase a transit logbook for about $1. This had to be stamped entering and leaving every port throughout Portugal, which could be a time-consuming task, but we found the officers friendly and cheerful. The Portuguese people love a good laugh and are famous practical jokers, so we came to look forward to these official visits as a pleasant experience. Our attempts to speak Portuguese were always appreciated and I'm sure helped to ensure our easy passage.
The unique geologic structures of this coast offer a plethora of exploration options and necessitate a sharp lookout on the bow.
Following a good scrub in the clean and modern Marina Lagos showers (Oh, the joys of an endless supply of hot running water!) we headed across the footbridge to town on the other side of the harbor to search for a restaurant. There were numerous choices along the festive waterfront, but we were taken by the ambiance of a six-table establishment on a small side street called "O Capellinhos" or "the little chapel", and went inside. What a surprise to see photos posted by the bar from other cruising sailors we knew. Seems we had been magnetized to the local sailors hangout! Grilled meat and wonderful fresh seafood are regional specialties, and make Portuguese cooking well worth trying. A local special of grilled sardines are an acquired taste for some, but we love them!
The cost-conscious cruiser will be happy to hear that the dollar currently goes a long way in Portugal. The Algarve is one cruising area where we planned to dine out. The favorable exchange on the escudo means a full-course dinner called "Prato do Dia" or "Dish of the Day" can be enjoyed in small local restaurants for 800-1600 escudos, or about $5 to $10 US per person. These generally include fresh bread, soup or salad, a main entree, a beverage (beer, wine, water or coffee are interchangeable!) and dessert. When we opted to cook aboard, lovely fresh produce, meat and fish were plentiful and inexpensive in the village markets, and in the larger towns such as Lagos and Faro, we could stock up at the new hypermarkets that carry a huge variety of items including imported foods and goods. A six-pack of Sagres, our favorite local beer, could be had for about $2 and lovely table wines for about $1.30 to $2. Our favorite is "vinho verde" or "green wine" so called because of its early harvest and short fermentation period. It is light and sparkling and slightly tart—great well-chilled on a hot afternoon!
Centuries-old fortresses are testament to the rich history of the area and make for a nice anchorage to boot.
The proximity of natural wilderness to the conveniences of urban centers is one of the things that make cruising this coast so appealing. After relaxing for a few days at Marina Lagos and reprovisioning at the large local market and nearby supermarket from which we rolled shopping carts right down the finger dock to the boat, we headed out to the anchorage at Ponta da Piedade and dropped the hook amongst the twisted sandstone islets. The town of Lagos was still in view and easily accessible by dinghy while the breath-taking natural beauty of this promontory surrounded us.
We spent the afternoon snorkeling on the reefs in the clear, emerald-colored water characteristic of this coast, and later explored the many nearby grottoes in our dinghy. On either side of the town stretched beautiful golden beaches adored by sun-worshipping tourists, but we enjoyedbeaches to ourselves at the foot of the cliffs out at the anchorage which were only accessible by boaters or determined rock climbers willing to scale down the cliffs.
The warm sandy beaches and temperate sea make the Algarve a hot spot with tourists, so it pays to be wary of inflated prices in the newly developed resort towns. The positive side to the increase in tourism is improved facilities for sailors such as the upscale marinas at Lagos andVilamoura that come complete with chandleries, grocery stores, boutiques, and restaurants.
|"A word of caution: the colors of the channel markers are reversed in this part of the world. The rule is "red-right-LEAVING" when navigating a channel here!"|
From Lagos as we coast-hopped further east, the geography changed dramatically. Tall rugged cliffs gave way to low sandy dunes and salt marshes. After enjoying several pleasant and well-protected anchorages in the Western Algarve such as Portimao, we sailed past the picturesque Cabo Santa Maria lighthouse near Faro and followed the well-marked channel up towards the town. A word of caution: the colors of the channel markers are reversed in this part of the world. The rule is "red-right-LEAVING" when navigating a channel here!
We anchored just off town in a quiet saltwater creek, part of the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, a breeding ground for pink flamingoes and a variety of other exotic birds, yet we were only a dinghy ride from the urban conveniences of Faro. There were about a dozen boats scattered throughout the anchorage and we later joined fellow cruisers from the US, Canada, England, Scotland, and Germany on a nearby beach for a traditional Portuguese meal of grilled sardines and fresh salads. As the sun began to set and we enjoyed our feast in the natural beauty of the marsh, the city lights began to wink on the horizon.
Members of the cruising community unite their culinary skills in the time-honored rite of the beach-side pot-luck.
Another plus to increased tourism in the Algarve is the availability of charter flights and air connections for crew exchange and family visits. At Faro, you can anchor in the protected saltwater creeks right near the airport and more or less dinghy over to pick up your guests.
The contrast of the city's hustle and bustle to your surroundings makes exploring the town fun too. The antiquity in Europe is astonishing to North Americans like us, and in villages and towns all along the Algarve we anchored off old fortresses and enjoyed exploring narrow winding streets, temples, and castles built by Moors, Romans, and other conquerors of bygonecenturies.
Our last stop was Tavira, near the border with Spain. Anchored in the river, Two-Step swung gently on the hook as the rosy sun began to sink toward the horizon. On the shallow bank to the north, a man and woman harvested cockles from the mud flats at low tide. Two large storks waded along the shoreline, dipping their long beaks into the warm water in search of dinner. We were in the cockpit enjoying our dinner too—locally baked bread, freshly caught fish, and a bottle of "Terras del Rei", another favorite Portuguese wine. Tomorrow we would join the flow of ships heading into the Mediterranean Sea. "Saudades Portugal." We will not forget you!