At the beginning of the year I planned to sail to Amsterdam, then follow the Continental coast down to Lisbon. The last stage has been rather delayed – the weather through October and November has seen a succession of depressions cross the Iberian peninsula, with little chance of coinciding crew and the right conditions. It’s not just about the wind and the weather – ocean swell plays a big part when heading down this coast, occasionally closing ports for days, and sometimes weeks.
Luckily a short window became available at the end of November, and friend Charles, fresh from an Atlantic circuit of his own, was able to come and join me. We got away from Porto fairly sharply in the morning after our arrival, and immediately the residual swell from a previous depression made itself obvious, with 3-4 metre waves crashing into the harbour walls as we left. Once out beyond the immediate coastline, however, conditions became more stable and we had a good passage down to Nazaré, arriving in the middle of the night and mooring on the fuel pontoon to await its opening. We had not been able to take on fuel in Porto, as the conditions were decidedly heavy at the harbour entrance.
The fuel pontoon was attached to a Shell garage, which opened promptly the following morning, allowing us to refuel and head off into the swell again at dawn. Nazaré is known for its extraordinary surfing, and a big undersea canyon greatly accentuates the waves. The effects were very obvious.
We then headed further south, with conditions becoming calmer. Rounding Cabo da Roca, we headed into the mouth of the river Targus and into the one marina which had offered me a space for the winter (the others were full up).
The Portuguese were very efficient, friendly and easy to deal with, and once formalities were completed Charles and I celebrated this quite challenging 170 NM short passage by eating out very well in one of the marina restaurants. We were also able to give the engine its annual service the next day, and fix an electrical problem which had meant the domestic batteries were not charging properly under engine. Spellbinder is now well settled in a nice marina, and Lisbon – which I have not yet properly visited – awaits us. Thank you, Charles, for making time to come and help me achieve this year’s final sail. Despite some concern, we have also fully transited ‘orca alley’ and escaped any interaction or damage. We were lucky – many yachts have suffered this year.