Exploring by dinghy among the grottoes for an afternoon of snorkeling.
"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.
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.
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.
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!"|
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.
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!
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