20 to 30 May 2021
Rota, Spain to Portimao, Portugal, 37° 06′ 51″N 08° 31′ 71″W, 110nm, 21 hours
to Lagos, 37° 06′ 27″N 08° 40′ 26″W, 8nm, 1 hour 30
In the end the only hazards on our passage from Spain to Portugal were the criss-crossing fishing boats and our night passage passed without any sign of either orcas or pirates. We had a glorious sail for several hours but by 4am the wind was light and the sails started flapping and we had to switch Sue back on (which is annoying when it’s your turn to sleep right next to her!) At 7am I woke and Stefan went forward to change the courtesy flag. We were back in Portuguese water for the first time since September 2016. Stefan assumed his position at the bow searching for signs of Portuguese land!
We were back in Portugal four years and nine months after we left and we dropped anchor in almost exactly the spot from which we had left Portimao in September 2016 on our way into the Med.
We had brought the tea towel home…
We woke at 5.30am on our first morning in Portugal for two reasons. Firstly we had gone to bed at 8pm. Six nights in varyingly rolly anchorages followed by our first night sail in over half a year meant we were shattered and frankly ready for bed at 7pm. Secondly, we had not adjusted to the time zone change and were rudely awoken by the sun rising an hour earlier in Portugal than in Spain.
Somewhere between Spain and Portugal Stefan and I had made an unspoken agreement that I would be in charge of parking the boat now we were away from the more challenging stern-to mooring of the Med and so after breakfast I took Pintail into the marina and alongside the welcome dock. It was a much calmer experience that my usual rushing around with fenders and lines. Having someone else do all that for me was a real novelty and I managed to get Pintail alongside without incident. For the first time since leaving the UK we had to formally check into an EU country which meant a stamp in our passports and our Schengen clock started ticking. Once ashore we celebrated our arrival back in Portugal with a coffee and a pastel de nata!
We had loved Portimao the first time we visited and we quickly remembered why. The laid back marina, the tiled buildings in town, the castle miradouro, even the fishing fleet and its incessant wash!
It helped too that four of our favourite Germans were in town too. We had left Ursula and Alex in Portimao in September 2016 and, the sale SV Faith and delivery of a new (to them) boat back from Greece later) we were so happy to find them so energised by their new project, a smallholding on the Rio Guardiana. We were reunited too with Dorte and Jens who we had waved off not long before in Gibraltar. Over tapas on a Portimao pavement we happily discussed German politics, learning a great deal about the upcoming election and how they are mourning the loss of Angela Merkel already.
A few days amongst the stork topped chimneys of the fabricas turned into a week when a weather window to see us further round the Portuguese coast came and then disappeared. We made new friends and enjoyed a holiday on the Algarve amongst a growing influx of Brits. Portimao was only just emerging from an extended lockdown. We were told that we didn’t have to wear masks outside but so many people were that we had to check the rules again. We were told that many are still quite scared of the virus.
While we waited for some good wind we attempted an early morning navigation up the Rio Arade in the dinghy. We had hoped to get up to Silves but chickened out when we nearly ran out of water!
Instead we headed to our favourite beach at the anchorage on the Ferragudo side of the river. Our breakfast was gatecrashed by a very friendly local out for a walk.
We realised how quickly we had shaken off all our winter habits and that despite having used the last days of our high speed internet connection in Gibraltar downloading hours of TV and film we had watched nothing and hadn’t even missed it. We had instantly switched from eating dinner down below to up in the cockpit, to reading until the sun set and to breakfast picnics. It felt so good to be exploring again.
When the weather finally looked good we left Portimao for a whirlwind 24 hours in Lagos. We probably would have skipped it but we had the perfect excuse to pop in for a night. We braved the narrow channel and lifting bridge to hang out for one last time with Babs and Rene before they headed out to the Azores.
We had time for one last dinner together and a morning coffee on the deck of SV Momentum on the hard in the yard where Rene whipped us up a gorgeous farewell gift that now graces Pintail’s cockpit and reminds us everyday of the incredible memories we have of our travels together. Saying goodbye is always so hard because we just never know if or when we might see each other again.
But leaving through the lifting bridge gave us one last opportunity for a final wave to Rene from where he took some great shots as we left to make the most of some good weather to start our ascent of Portugal’s Atlantic coast and back to the UK…