Thursday 13th to Friday 21st August
We are in Cascais marina, just outside Lisbon.
We had been dawdling down the Rias, taking our time and not really thinking too much about just how far we still have to go to get to the Canaries by the end of September. But places we’ve stopped in on the way have been so lovely that we’ve wanted to spend a day at least looking around.
My last post was from Baiona. We liked Baiona. We wandered around the busy backstreets one evening, full of jostling people enjoying large glasses of red wine in the many bars. We had tea on the terrace of the Parador having done a circuit of the battlements overlooking the harbour. And of course we had amazingly delicious scallops at the yacht club restaurant.
Whilst there our anchoring permit to visit the Islas of Cies came through at the last minute, so we left Baiona on a cloudy afternoon and idled the 7 miles or so over to the Islas in a couple of hours. We anchored overnight in the bay which we had to ourselves once the boats with day trippers had left. The island has the best beach in the world, the Playa Arena das Rodas, according to the Guardian, and although it was very lovely, with a crescent of sand and backdrop of a lagoon and tall pines, I’m not sure I’d agree with the Guardian writer. Perhaps the weather didn’t help, with low lying cloud and drizzle, although this somehow added to the atmosphere and sense of mystery. We walked the 3.5 km up to the lighthouse, the track leading up through pine and eucalyptus then opening up towards the top with views over the two islands. Much of the island is a bird sanctuary, and the gulls there are very tame. The young gulls, almost as big as their parents, sit around mewing constantly whilst the long suffering parent watches from nearby. There is a large campsite near the bay but it was very quiet at night on the boat.
The next day we had planned to sail the 60 miles to Porto, but left too late on a misty, damp morning, into a strong headwind. After 12 hours of very slow progress, tacking into the wind, we had only got half way, so with the crew threatening mutiny we diverted to Viana do Castelo, our first stop in Portugal. By then it was dark so we had been maintaining a close look out for the floats marking lobster pots, of which there are many within a mile or two of land all down the coastline, hard to tell in the dark what was a gull sitting on the sea (these would fly off at the last minute) and what was a float (attached to a line which could get tangled around the propeller). It is always challenging, but exciting, coming into an unfamiliar harbour at night. We weaved around the outgoing fishing boats, trying to work out which are the lights that mark the safe passage in to the harbour, keeping the red flashing buoys to port and the green ones to starboard, then up the river to the marina, arriving at 11pm. We speedily changed our courtesy flag from Spanish to Portuguese and hoped that no one had noticed that we had the wrong flag up. Of course Viana do Castelo was charming so we had to stay a day. We explored the narrow streets of the old town and the Praca de Republica with stone fountain, surrounded by town hall and church. We climbed the 2km of stone steps to the top of the hill crowned by the Basilica de Santa Luzia, with great views of the town, river Lima, coast and beaches below.
The next day we left early on a beautiful still, clear morning, slipping out past the silent town as the sun started to rise. With a steady wind behind us we arrived in Porto by 2pm and entered the river Douro in a strong wind. It was hot, sunny and had an exotic feel with palm trees lining the banks, dodging the numerous little boats anchored in the river entrance with people fishing, in the distance the colourful orange, cream and ochre houses, domes and bell-towers stacked up on the heights of the Ribeiro area of Porto. We were met by a RIB from the new marina who guided us around the shallows in the river into the marina. It has only been in the last few years that you can berth so near to Porto, as before this shallows and shifting sand banks made entry to the river hazardous. Now the sand banks have been dredged and new breakwaters build at the entrance to the river, and a new and very welcoming marina built (they even bring free bread rolls to your boat in the morning!). We walked along the wooden walkway on the south bank of the river into Porto, past the vibrant and picturesque area of Vila Nova de Gaia where the port wine lodges and warehouses are, to cross into Porto by the busy Ponte de Dom Luis I iron bridge (designed by one of Eiffel’s students). The next day we met son-in-law Charlie’s sister Tess for lunch; she’s been travelling around Europe for the last two months and Porto was her last stop before returning to Bristol. We did a few hours sightseeing in Porto and bought some bottles of port.
It felt sad to leave Porto after such a brief stop there, but we needed to push on south. So we had a 160mile overnight sail aiming for Lisbon. We almost made it but by the second evening decided to divert to Cascais, a couple of hours before Lisbon itself. And we’re glad we did, it’s very pleasant and relaxing here. More in my next post.