As I was working up to the week before I left Dublin, I didn’t have time to finish and replace everything on the boat the way I wanted. I thought I would do these on the go. One of these items was the anchor chain, which I wanted to change for a longer one. At the moment I had 10m chain and 30m warp on the 25lb plough anchor. It worked very well so far. However, circumstances have changed and the boat is my house, I have to reconsider what I need. I needed longer chain for better holding in any condition and any seabed. More chain is also better to avoid chafing on the warp if you connect any. I also needed longer scope; I wasn’t planning to anchor in deep water, but the anchor is the primary safety equipment on any boat, if you lose your engine and/or sails and drifting onto danger, the anchor should always be there to be deployed and save the situation. Te third reason why I was planning to buy a new length of chain is, that to do so, I would gain a spare set of anchor and chain if for some reason I would lose the main one. I already had the spare anchor, a 5kg Danforth, now it would be complete to be used.
I was recommended a good and cheap chandlery in the heart of Lisbon, not too far from where we anchored, but on the other side of the river. The next day after arrival I decided to lift anchor again, sail across to the other side to the marina at Alcantara and stay there for a few days. I could visit the chandlery, splice the anchor and rope if I can buy them, and also look around Lisbon city, where I have never been before. According to my log book, it only took us half hour to arrive to the swing bridge at the entrance of Doca de Alcantara. The pedestrian bridge opens every half hour to let the yachts in and out, and it was closed when I arrived. I stopped at the pontoon designated for waiting, and to my surprise I saw familiar faces. The crew from Max’s boat was walking towards me, Harry with his girl friend, and they quickly hitch hiked my boat to get into the marina. Max as sailing his boat single handed just behind us. The gate opened, we left the pontoon and motored into the marina looking for a place where the two boats could stay close together. It wasn’t easy the marina was full of visiting and local yachts, but finally we found two alongside berths under the office window, between motor yachts, so big their decks was at the top of our masts. No need to say, the staff in the office wasn’t too happy with our positioning, but no other boats would fit in there anyway, so they left us with it. They managed to withhold their laugh when we enquired about the price per night for our 6.7m LOA; it seemed ridiculously low-for them anyway.
I spent three days in the marina at Alcantara, I found the chandlery, and bought 25m chain and 50m rope, spliced them together and was happy enough with the result. I put markers on the chain and the rope as well, at every fathom, so I know the length of the scope I let out, and stored everything in the chain locker at the bow. I cleaned and dried the boat inside, as I always do when in a comfortable and reasonably steady position, and found a laundrette to wash my clothes. I decided to spend a bit of extra money on the dryer, as I am still not south enough to have real summer weather for the middle of October. Relying on the sun, it would take days to dry them out.
I found time to go for a run in one morning, when I couldn’t sleep and got up early. It was still dark at 6am, we are just a week before to change the clock for the winter time, I took the map of the locality and run into the unknown. I got lost, and run through dark, completely deserted parks, empty suburbs, unkempt house estates and eerie streets. By the time I found my way back towards the marina it started to brighten up and the first group of commuters were heading to work. Not in a hurry, though. I, like an observer dropped in a totally new environment, found the difference between Dublin (the last big city I saw) and Lisbon startling. Not one person was running with a branded paper cup of coffee in her/his hand (smart phone in the other), but everyone sat down at the tables on the street or inside one of the number of cafes, and finished the espresso in a dignified manner, often accompanied with a cake or a croissant.
I made it back to the boat at the end, if with a sore knee. The yachtees were still asleep; I had the shower all to myself. After a healthy breakfast, I went to do the tourist bits, as I have never been in Lisbon before and was interested to look around. Now, that I am in the marina it is safer than if I have to leave Comino on anchor even for a day. The Maritime Museum was the main attraction and it was worth to go to. The long history of the Portuguese maritime affair exhibited through the centuries, wars, discoveries and fishing provides endless resource to display. Old navigation equipments, canons, ship models and even full size, retired vessels are on show. I couldn’t take everything in quickly enough, good I am not that interested in submarines, modern era destroyers and other killing machines, they were at the end of the exhibition and my brain was quite full of the history of sailing, by the time I got there.
The three days went fast and Friday arrived. I left our safe haven for the anchorage back in Cascais, and arrived at 2030 hours, after three and a half hour sailing. It was spring tide now, and I waited late to get the full benefit of the ebbing tide and the river flow. It helped me at some cases with an extra 2 knots. I even towed my dinghy behind me and still made it in good time.
Friends were waiting for me at the anchorage, just off the beaches of Cascais, and it felt a bit like arriving home. Martijn and Will got there before me and we soon gathered on the biggest, ergo the party-, boat, and shared our stories of the last days. At the end we all came from different location, Will was on an anchorage further upriver, at Seixal, Martijn stayed at the navy base painting his boat’s engine room and I brought the news from the marina, where I met with French Max, who told me they were going to hang around a bit more there. His girlfriend, Claire had a small accident during their last leg of sailing, when she fell and now had a sore (possibly fractured) rib case. Strong girl, she denied to go to a hospital, only complained if it was too rough at anchor. A couple of days later they followed as back to Cascais, happy and rested.
A full eight days of very, very frustrating waiting followed. Nobody wanted to believe what was on the weather forecast. The relentless SW wind kept blowing, because a low pressure system was sitting above the Atlantic without moving left or right. This was stopping all the yachts moving anywhere at all. The general direction the boats would move is south, or south west, but with the wind coming from there it is impossible, not saying anything about the high chance of the gales that can develop, and turn rather nasty. Nearly everyone has some kind of schedule, and now I had to start worry if I can maintain my timetable even with the weeks of built-in safety margin. My next destination was Madeira, where I was planning to meet with my sister, Erika, who already had her flight booked, and I didn’t want her to wait for me…
We couldn’t really do anything with the weather, which wasn’t just windy (from the wrong direction) but often cool and humid. The evening gathering around Martijn’s wood stove became a habit, and more and more cheap (but excellent) Portuguese wine were consumed. We made friends with a newly arrived Norwegian registered boat, with Philip and Sonia onboard, from Germany and Finland respectively.
The loud honk reported the low water mark every day at Cascais, and we kept busy to pass the time from one day to another. Will had friends from New Zealand, planning to sail from Lisbon to the Canaries and taking a flight from there back home, but the plan obviously fell apart. A couple of days waiting, and they gave up realising it would be too long before the sail. They packed up after a few days of land based activity, and left. When Max appeared again, another French sailing boat came to the anchorage. They knew each other, so the usual quiet evening on Martijn’s boat was a bit less quiet. This big, beautiful two mast vessel was skippered on typical French principal. Minimal engine use, fix-on-the-go, and no working toilet… The crew of eight, mixed of girls and boys, used the open-air aft of the boat for their bodily functions, either at sea or in a harbour. Just don’t tie your dinghy to the wrong place when you visit them!
We followed their progress on the AIS as they were very keen on leaving the next day, and reaching Faro on the south coast of Portugal. They made 20 miles in 24 hours, and eventually made it to a safe anchorage just before the storm hit. They were heading to Rabat, Morocco to participate at the Festina Lente, a combined maritime and artists’ festival.
After more than a week waiting, the Maritime Police went around the boats again. This time we had to leave the anchorage because there was a 5m swell forecasted and it was not safe to stay there. So we left the next day and sailed back to the other anchorage behind the bridge. Well known path was this now, but at least we had good wind and could sail all the way. When I rounded the most eastern point of Almada, where the ferries arrive to, there was a small number of people walking around or sitting on the outdoor benches, like you do on a Saturday. As I was really close to them I waved and smiled expecting the same back, like I am used to from Ireland. Not so. Those who were sitting, turned their heads away, the walkers turned their back to me and started to walk quickly to the opposite direction. I murmured a sorry under my overgrown moustache, and kept sailing on, wondering, if I have seen a local smiling since I am in Portugal? I don’t think so; they seem to take life very seriously. I dropped the anchor in half an hour, under sail, only that I got too close to the friendly Norwegian boat and had to re-anchor quickly.
Another few days of waiting and anxious studying of the wind forecast followed here. The weather was so bad, it was depressing. One time, when it was raining heavily, I decided to collect some rainwater and plugged in the cockpit drains. In minutes, I had so much rainwater, it was enough to bath, and cook for days. The other day, bored of sitting on the boat, went for a long walk. It became a really long walk, darkness fell and I didn’t know where I was. I aimed towards the shoreline reached it, and could see our boats across the bay, far away. The only problem was a big sign between me and there: Navy base, entry is strictly prohibited. If I go back where I came from, it takes hours to get anywhere near, I had no choice. I ignored the sing and started ‘Mission Trespass’. I walked kilometres on the shore, beside canons pointing towards the sea, and enormous dry docks ready to accommodate the warships for maintenance, army buildings and equipments, before I arrived into the middle of the complex and saw the first car and humans. I disguised myself successfully; they would have passed me, if I don’t actually ask them for direction. This place was huge and I was going around at roundabouts and roads by now and it started to rain again quite heavily. Of course, they tried to look very offended and serious about the situation, I could be a spy, or a secret agent (a very lame one) as far as the story goes, but eventually they find a lieutenant with good English and I managed to explain myself. I seemed to escape court-martial and life in prison, they all laughed (finally, Portuguese who can laugh!) and even gave me a lift all the way back to my dinghy.
The next day the weather was pretty bad again, the lack of sunshine and humid conditions benefited only one creature of life: mould started to grow here and there on the boat. A bit more time to spend here and it will grow on my beard and hair as well, I felt. I wasn’t in a positive mood at all, and it didn’t help, when, in the evening I looked at my dinghy and saw, that one of the oars was missing. They are secured with a screw cup, but as both are right treaded, one of them gets tightened with every stroke I do, the other gets loosened. I didn’t realise this, and now I had to learn it the hard way. I did have the dinghy in the water now for three weeks, without checking the screws and it worked itself free. I took it as a sign, I had to leave. In the morning I am going ashore, if the weather is just a bit favourable, I’ll get provisions and depart straight away.
I rowed ashore with the single oar, early in the morning, lifted out the dinghy to a small slipway and took the oar with me, just in case. I didn’t want to use my hands on the way back, should someone take fancy of it. I was walking towards the grocery shop, the army guys had showed and recommended me earlier, when I happened to pass a small small-boat yard. It looked more like a building site with boats scattered around, and men working on them. I mean, one man was working on one boat, and ten others were watching him humming (dis)approvingly depending on their level of relation to the boat and/or person. I opened the gate, and walked in. Nobody looked at me. I took the oar out of my rucksack and waved it around. This bore result. Heads slowly turn towards me, showing little interest. I asked them if they would have another one of this, but of course they had none. When I asked, if they knew where I could buy one the question was unanimous: Decathlon! I thanked, turned around and left. I took only a few steps when they started to shout after me in broken English: ‘Hey, oar boy! You walking?’ ‘Yes.’ I said. ‘Come!’ One man waved at me. He drove me all the way to this big shopping centre at the outskirt of the town, where you can buy everything from bread to gas boiler, and spear gun to bathroom tile. It was about 15 minutes drive, he saved me some walking. I said thanks and we shook hands. He didn’t smile (back to the old Portuguese custom) but I knew he was happy to help. I got my oar, took the bus back to town, did my shopping for the week and was at the boat by midday. I hastily deflated the dinghy put away the food and stuff I will not need immediately and arranged the boat for sailing. It was the 25th October 2016 and I was ready to cross half the Atlantic to Madeira.
Comino is registered under Dutch flag and this has a long story, of course. Apart from having been in Amsterdam a couple of time as a tourist, neither me nor the boat has nothing to do with the Netherlands. In Ireland, where I left from, the ISA (Irish Sailing Association) used to register cruising boats planning to visit foreign port. You need some kind of registration when you sail abroad, but many countries, like Ireland or the UK don’t require it for home waters. Unfortunately, just at the end of the year before I left the Irish government stopped the Association to continue with their registration, with the reason that they are not an official body. The government however, failed to start its own small boat registry system and now many boat owners are in a situation, like me, that they can’t officially register their boat in Ireland and carry the Irish flag. Bureaucracy problems were expected from the beginning and I realized this problem early enough to have time to sort it out, so I started to look for a solution. I tried in the UK, Sweden and eventually ended up registering in Holland. Now, of course Dutch sailors, seeing the flag flown from the stern, as required by more of the tradition than formalities, are coming to say hello to me in their language. I am sorry to disappoint them, but they all understand how it works. It is all mixed up with the boats, like in a travelling circus, all the nationalities of the world are represented here and all the flags flown, and often they don’t match up.
Martijn, from s/v Prinses Mia was one of those Dutch sailors who came to greet me after he arrived the next morning and dropped the anchor behind us. He paddled his yellow kayak around, called me out when he saw I was aboard and invited me, regardless of flags and country of origin, for the get-together he planned for the night. I accepted the invitation, the first of many to come. He pointed at his boat to which I should come, a big black steel sloop. 45 feet long as I later learned, with nice beamy lines, she looked like a place to accommodate a full party.
As Kevin’s boat, the nearest to me on the starboard side was gone and it looked like I might have dragged the anchor a wee bit and drifted closer to the boat on the other side, I made the effort, weighted the hook and repositioned the boat. Happy with the result, feeling safe and secure again, I went ashore to connect to the free Wi-Fi provided all around Cascais town, and to buy a bottle of wine to bring along with me for the night. By now I started to see, the long term cruisers’ infamous price consciousness isn’t just a myth, conversations frequently revolve around price and offers, or even better free stuff or ‘recycling’. Whatever is thrown away and is within the reach of this community is reconsidered, thought and talked through, if it could be used, reused, convert or transformed something new and useful. Free anchorage, free Wi-Fi, free washing facility included in the marina price, information about free anything is quickly passed on for the benefit of the fellow seafarer. Thrown away engines are dismantled for possible spare parts, discarded race sails are sewn to new size for the cruising boat, bits and ropes are being reused. Ropes and ropes, you can’t have enough of them even on the smallest boat. Thin and thick, three stranded nylon and modern dynema, in every colour and length, hundreds of meters are stored on every boat in various lockers. Still, if a new coil is offered for free, none of us would refuse it. With this in mind I happily picked up the cheapest bottle of wine I could find and I thought in myself, if it is something undrinkable I will just apologize and next time I would compensate it. It turned out quite a good, light, local red, and also the most expensive brought to the boat that night. I still have a lot to learn, I see…
I was the first to arrive, and got the tour of the boat after we went through the ‘where we come from, which way we are heading’ conversation and finished our cups of tea. The boat is more like a house inside; quite different from the tiny place I am used to on Comino. There is a kitchen (with tiled walls) instead of a galley; there are cabins instead of just bunks, a spacious living room with comfortable seats around a round table and a wood stove fabricated by the owner himself from a discarded gas cylinder. I do not mention the shower with the sauna, as you will not believe me. She is not a luxurious boat however, just simply a living space for someone who chose to live on the water and not in a house.
After the tour of the boat and a couple of stories, I was told about the other guests who are coming too. These few boats and their owners met before on different places coming from Ireland, England, France and now they have arrived to Cascais with a little time difference. Martin left from Ireland at about the same time as me His boat being bigger and so faster, should have arrived well before me, but he stopped on the way here and there, and that is where he met with the other ones. First after me to climb the more than two meter height of the stern of Prinses Mia was Max from France, who is sailing his yellow plywood 28 foot, home built boat with his girlfriend. The young couple is having a good time and although they have always something to fix on the old, more than 40 years old boat, they enjoy the adventure. Max kept us with words anyway, unusual from a French person he seemed to take pleasure in speaking in English and wasn’t afraid to express his opinion about anything, from the proper length of the anchor chain to the proper attitude towards one’s liberty in modern society.
Then Will appeared in the door at the end of the companionway, just after the stove has been lit, old paper charts used as a kindle. The new subject of conversation was given about outdated paper charts and the best way of electronic navigation. Max was teased, being called the rich man because he was using Navionics charts, and we compared the options and benefits of different methods of navigations. We all agreed, how much easier these days without having to store kilograms of chart, some of them being used only for a couple of days, and instead, have the whole world on a tiny SD card. With the heated debate calming down, Will told his story too, he left from Cowes, England, after preparing his boat for two years. The goal is the Canary Island, as for so many of us, then maybe back to England or across to the Caribbean, who knows. He has friends crewing for him sometimes, but manly sailed his boat singlehanded. Well equipped with every gadgets, from AIS to wind generator, and useful items like fridge and wood stove ha has a good go to anywhere 32 footer. Comino is still the smallest boat of all…
But then the other Max and Harry arrived. The two young lads, in their early twenties maybe, are sailing from England as well; they have a 22 feet homebuilt wooden boat which was bought for £500. Built in the ’60-s it needed a bit of maintenance and Max the owner was working hard on it during the summer before he left. Their destination is also the Canaries then maybe across the Atlantic; so far they went around the Brittany coast surfing, making friends, partying and all the rest. They don’t have a wind vane self steering on the boat, it would have been too expensive to invest in, so they are either at the helm all the time, or trying to balance the boat perfectly to sail herself, using the mainsheet-to-tiller and jib sheet-to-tiller self steering method. A good way to learn about sail setting in general and your boat, in depth! We couldn’t make up our mind which boat was smaller, theirs our mine, so we agreed in a drawn. Still, it is something else, to venture out on an old wooden boat this far. They told us; on a sunny, warm day the planks above the water line can shrink and let the sun shine through. The bilge pumps are always working, and there is always water in the bilge… Something you read about in the books telling stories of old times.
The news went around about the Maritime Police asking the boats to leave the anchorage before Monday midday (the next day) until the Friday afternoon, to give room for the Navy exercise, that was going to be held there. I saw the rib stopping by some boats earlier and was wondering what they were up to, but strangely they didn’t come to talk to me. Maybe I scared them away with my look, I don’t know, but at least, I knew now what they were up to. Different options, anchorages and marinas were discussed amongst the skippers, and the conclusion was to sail up to Lisbon up the River Tagus under the big bridge, then turn right to find the anchorage I was actually looking up months ago, beside the old navy base. I found this possible anchorage on various resources on the internet (web charts, Google Earth) but as always, I was sceptical how it would work in real life. It looked perfect for the conditions that were expected for the weekend, with offshore wind and protection from the swells. We agreed to sail up all together, as much as possible considering the speed difference between the yachts and take photos and videos of each other if we can. Hence, all happy, full of plans and feel-well factors we broke up the party, one by one we climbed down from the height of the push pit at the stern of the party boat to the platform one level down, then trying to keep the dignified look, fell into the dinghies, untied the bowlines from the rail and rowed back each to their own boat.
Of course, we all invited each other to have a look at our pride and joy, our home and source of pleasure, our way of transport and in many case our all and only possession. The next day, with little time left before we wanted to leave, there was only chance for a quick shopping for fresh food, then accepting visitors and repaying the quick visit. At the end three boats left at the same time, Martijn’s Prinses Mia, Max’s yellow Armagnac, and me with Comino. There was very little wind to begin with, so we motored for a while, the two smaller boats together taking pictures of each other, the big, black ship leaving us behind. Then I slowed down a little, I wanted to check out another anchorage on the way, thinking of waiting out the tide to turn to favour me. The place didn’t look very promising at all, being stuck between a marina breakwater from one side and rocks on the other, and exposed to the swell from the cargo ships and winds from most directions, so I abandoned the idea to stop there. Although upriver, but at half moon the neap ebbing tide wasn’t too strong against us anyway. The wind was picking up from behind, I hoisted the sails and with a bit of help from the engine, I caught up with the other two boats. Now goose winging, the full main on one side, the full jib on the other, sailing downwind in company, admiring the cityscape of Lisbon, with the mix of old and new buildings, we had one of the best time of our life. If there is more than one boat around however, it is a race, and Comino being the smallest and a heavily built yacht, we were left behind again until after the bridge, when we had to go around the corner and, turn right.
The enormous bridge, the Ponte 25 de Abril, connecting Almada with Lisbon is a two story suspension bridge, a famous landmark of the capital. Built in 1966 and a train platform added in 1999, it carries a huge amount of traffic back and forth. With a 70m clearance it is no danger for navigation, but the two-level traffic system creates an unbelievable rumbling noise deafening you when passing underneath. The concrete fundaments of the pylons have dolphins painted on them, a good example of how the Portuguese people must love pictures, graffiti and portrayal in general. I could see the evidence of this walking around in Lisbon later on, abandoned buildings, crumbling walls painted over with beautiful pictures, tiles used everywhere often depicting historic scenes from the past and current time as well.
The huge legs of the bridge disturbed the wind a little bit and the speed of the foul current went up to a knot at least, but we made it through eventually. We had to dodge the ferries as well, which were frequently coming and going between the two sides of the river, from Almada to Lisbon and back, meeting half way always. A good way to commute I would say. I hardened up the sails after the head land and turned east, then started the engine soon, to make it to the anchorage in the shelter of the mountains. We arrived, found our place and dropped the anchor. Sometime later the other small boat, Max’s Flying Cloud joined us, sailing to the anchorage and dropping the hook without using the engine, as it is written in the how-to-do-it books.
This place, on the south side of the river, between an old abandoned ship yard, which possibly belonged to the navy, and the current navy base wasn’t as popular as the Cascais spot. In fact only us were visiting yachts there this time, we shared this little bay only with the tiny fishing boats moored there permanently.
Cascais was a small fishing village outside of Lisbon, but due to its strategic location on the right bank of the River Tagus, at its entrance, it has always been an important nautical spot for seafarers. Ships, coming from and going in to Lisbon are stopping here for centuries waiting for the tide or favourable wind to manoeuvre the river, carrying their cargo or passengers. Not all of them will be successful; the seabed is littered with wrecks, fishing boats and tall ships, navy ships and sailing yachts resting at the bottom, providing material for divers for archaeological research.
A new marina was built here recently to accommodate yachts travelling from northern latitudes and mainly sailing towards Madeira, the Canary Islands or the Mediterranean. Fortunately, it didn’t mean the end of the anchorage in the Bay of Cascais, and boats choosing this option flock up just off the beaches of the town in a stone throw distance. Mixed up with the local fishing boats this ever changing flotilla provides excellent photo material for the mass of the tourists walking up and down on the promenade and the twisty streets looking at the sea. The tourists are in a huge number even at the end of the season when I arrived, the fishing village became a holiday destination, Lisboners and foreign visitors are swimming, paddle boarding and wind surfing off the beaches, fill up the many restaurants, enjoy the live music at the main square or visiting one of the art exhibitions or museums.
It was a nice enough morning when I woke up in the morning and re-assessed my position in the daylight. I decided to stay where I was in about three meters of water, at low water (the range of the tide is roughly three meters) and about a hundred meters from the rocks and the sandy beaches. There was another small, similar sized boat anchored not too far away and one a few feet longer than Comino but otherwise all of them are big cruising boats, seemingly equipped for long term cruising. Good place to be!
I saw the dinghies tied up behind every boat and as I was planning to stay here for a few days, if not a week, I started to pump up mine and getting ready to paddle ashore later on. A bit of tidying up and drying clothes, towels, airing out sleeping bag, eating something and I was ready to feel terra nostra under my feet again, after twelve days being on board! My neighbour on the right, the man belonging to the slightly longer boat with the red hull just arrived back to his boat with the tender; I decided to row over and ask him where did he leave his dinghy while he was ashore? Not really familiar with the formalities between cruising boats on a busy anchorage, I didn’t expect an invitation for a cup of tea, but I let myself persuade, tied my dinghy alongside and climbed aboard, an English boat must have good tea anyway.
Kevin, the owner-skipper was installing his newly bought bottle of CampinGas and gas regulator, and he needed to do a trial run anyway, so we boiled the water in the kettle and started to talk about boats, destinations, and plans and travels and what’s not. I, the newly arrived, was asking about how to get around, where is the best shop for provision, is there Internet connection and other possibly useful information, he was asking about my boat, where I was coming, where I am going and so on. One of the many similar initial conversations I enjoyed on this place and on others, with fellow cruisers. Time is going fast in good company and when tea was finished I had to hurry up to make to the shop for fresh bread and milk, something for dinner, and still be back before dark. Kevin said he would come over later on to look at Comino as he used to have one very similar Hurley boat back in the days, before he bought his current Nicolson 27. He left the next morning for the Canaries. Later we learned the story of this trip, when he emailed one of the other boat owners around. He made 140Nml the first day, it was a very good day sailing by any standard, but then the wind changed to southerly and the next three days he only managed to sail 50 miles. He tried to keep going against the wind, but it was very hard and he had only small amount of Diesel fuel onboard, limiting the range he could motor. Eventually, 200 miles or so from the Canaries he gave up and turned towards Madeira. He arrived to Porto Santo after 11 days of sailing, averaging less than 40 Nml a day. This hard sailing for little gain is what I tried to avoid, and that was the reason I was waiting around Cascais and Lisbon for more than three weeks coming.