A welcome sight after weeks of nothing but ocean scenery—the lighthouse of Cabo Sao Vincente.
The wind was light from the northwest and there was a big sloppy swell, but Two-Step, the Classic 37 sloop that Sheryl and I built together from a bare fiberglass hull 12 years ago, rode the waves comfortably under main and jib. We now had 35,000 miles under the keel and this landfall would mark our third transatlantic passage. Whoever spotted land first today would win big points.
|"I wanted maximum speed and maneuverability as we crossed the shipping lanes."|
"Southbound ship on port bow," I shouted and gave my mate a Cheshire Cat grin. She looked up to mark the ship's position, gave me a smile, and then went back to the binoculars.
"I'm going for the big one," she said scanning the mist ahead. Landfall scored the biggest points.
Prince Henry the Navigator embodied a spirit of discovery that lingers on in modern-day cruisers.
I checked the bearing on the closest ship, then swept my eyes across the misty horizon yet again. Nothing. We were only five miles off according to our dead reckoning and the handheld GPS, and we had seen the Cape St. Vincent light during the night. It's an impressive light as lights go. The most powerful light in Europe, it has a range of 60 miles, and when it came up during my watch it was like seeing an old friend.
The first time I'd navigated by this light was in 1990, a few weeks after Sheryl and I had completed our very first transatlantic passage. On that trip we'd made landfall in Lisbon, farther north up the coast, and spent time recovering from a stormy voyage in that exciting city. Later, we'd made a night passage down the coast to spend time in the Algarve, Portugal's golden south coast, planning our arrival at the Cape St. Vincent for dawn. It was a quiet, moonless night and the phosphorescence was so thick we carried a sparkling trail the whole way behind us. Dolphins played by the boat leaving light trails like fading comets in their path, and for most of the voyage the Cabo Sao Vincente light was in sight, blinking reassurance and welcome ahead. Magic.
I snapped out of my reflections at Sheryl's shout.
"Ha! Ha! I win!" she said triumphantly. "You're on dish duty for a week, Buddy!"
"Where?" I said, glancing first at the approaching ship to starboard, then scanning the horizon. "I don't see it. I'll bet you're just trying to trick me."
"Never," she said handing me the binoculars. "There. About two o'clock."
But I didn't need the binoculars. In the direction she pointed I saw a dark line, faint but distinct.
"That's great, Sher," I said giving her a hug. "Land ho! Welcome to Portugal. Now get ready for a big wake!"
The waters off this cape mark the end of the continent and have witnessed fierce battles throughout history.
Now that we were out of the shipping lanes, we switched off the motor and rounded the cape under sail. The waves crashed against the formidable cliffs, and high above the water enthusiastic fishermen dangled 200-foot lines into the sea. Occasionally, we would see a flapping fish travel up through the air on a line as the captor attempted to keep his catch from banging into the cliff-side. "There's a form of flying fish I haven't seen before," I commented to Sheryl.
We now headed eastward along the coast toward the next headland, passing stretches of long, golden, sandy beaches beaten over the centuries by waves from the foot of the cliffs. Sun worshippers lay on the sand and children played in the water.
Ninety minutes from the Cape, we tucked in behind the Sagres peninsula, and dropped the hook off Praia da Mareia, a small, sandy beach surrounded by tall ochre, sandstone cliffs that reflected yellow, orange, rust, and purple in the sunshine. With the light northwesterly wind we would be fine for the night in the protection of the Sagres headland, and close to the beach we were out of the swell rounding the headland. But the anchorage is exposed to the south and southwest, so we planned to move on to the port of Lagos the next day where we could enjoy the luxuries of being tied to a dock at the lovely marina there and restock our supplies in town. Also, we had to go to an official port to report to customs.
We had cleared into Portugal in the Azores several weeks earlier but in Portugal you are required to clear in and out of every port. Technically, we shouldn't go ashore here at the anchorage but fellow cruisers assured us that since it wasn't an official port, there didn't seem to be a problem if we wanted to stretch our legs and touch solid ground again. Just behave ourselves and carry our papers and passports.
There were only five boats in the anchorage but room for 20 or more in good conditions. Most flew international flags and had come down the coast from Northern Europe and the UK. Two-Step was the only one that had arrived directly from a transatlantic passage.
The mammoth wind compass is all that remains of Prince Henry's school of navigation.
Having just crossed the ocean for the third time with reliable charts and modern navigational aids, we wanted to come here on this day to pay tribute and offer our thanks to the spirit of the men that set forth from this place. Through their courage and desire for knowledge, they have helped sailors throughout the centuries fulfill their dreams of freely sailing the world's oceans. We looked across the compass and out to the open sea in their memory, then returned to our floating home to celebrate our safe passage and prepare for our upcoming cruise of the Algarve coast.
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