Ham and Ships

Posted September 20th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

P9080081, originally uploaded by melandnick.

First of all I guess I owe anyone that reads this blog an apology.
It’s been my turn to write a post for quite a while now and in spite of Mel’s frequent requests I have not done so.
So…..Sorry, I will try to be better in future.
Now anyone who really knows me will also know that my memory is terrible and as I need to cover quite a lot on this post and as it goes back a while I am going to try something different and write it in reverse. I hope it will work.

We begin in Lagos, Portugal.
At the moment we are in the marina and have been here for 3 nights.
Mel just gave me a piece of mature Cathedral cheddar that we found in a local shop and I had an intense surge of home sickness that is now fading with the nutty aftertaste of the cheese…mmmmmmm.
We weren’t really going to visit the Algarve as we had visions of white bodies (slowly turning bright red), union jack shorts, loud Irish bars and English breakfasts……..and it has all of those things.
It has them in moderation and also has quite a bit of charm and some STUNNING coastline.
Yesterday, I called a Greek friend of mine who lives in Athens and works on the Greek stock exchange. George and I have known each other many years since meeting in Mykonos when, on the spur of the moment, he joined me sitting on the bonnet of my car, listening to acid jazz and downing a litre of Smirnoff blue label.
Anyway, George noted that in an earlier photo from La Rochelle he was happy to see that despite the Greek economy being shot, the price of green peppers is holding up very well in France.
So Mel and I have decided that for George’s benefit we will reporting regularly on the state of the GPPI – Green pepper price index.
George, you will be glad to hear that in Lagos it stands at a healthy 1.49 Euros per kilo.

Another apology,
We have loads of pics to upload but we can’t get enough bandwidth in most of the marinas to upload them but we will keep trying.
Yesterday we went to the beach.
It’s really the first time we have done this and we loaded up the dinghy with all our gear including fishing, snorkelling and tennis equipment and motored down the coast.
It is awesome!
There are the most amazing caves and whole bays and grottos entered through tiny arched entrances and we spent a couple of hours exploring them and trying to keep out of the way of the hundreds of small tourist boats that race through continuously.
Eventually we came to a small beach in a bay surrounded by tall cliffs with no access from land other than climbing down the sheer faces of the cliffs.
Two intrepid couples were sunning themselves on the beach and one guy jokingly berated us for cheating and getting there by boat even though we were swamped by a wave as we landed in the light surf.
We played tennis and Frisbee on the sand and swam in the warm, crystal clear waters.
It’s the closest we have come to paradise so far.
The night before we had a fellow cruiser over for dinner.
James lives with his girlfriend, Jana (hope I spelt that right, actually I just asked him and I got it right) on a small steel boat called Scrabbler that they refitted themselves.
James has got it sussed and works for a UK company who allow him his lifestyle choice on the basis that he has internet access and flies back to the UK for a few days a month…..I don’t remember seeing many jobs like that advertised back home.
James was mentioned to us by Dick and Ginger who we had met in Gijon and it’s nice to see how the sailing community really does breakdown boundaries of nationality.
Earlier that day I had, as is my way, been speaking to some locals on a sport fishing boat and come away with a couple of dorados (mahi mahi) and Mel stir fried them in an oyster sauce with noodles.
The evening before we walked into a supermarket and bumped into Marco.
Now I know this was going to be a problem doing this backwards.
You see, we met Marco in Porto which was our last port of call so more on him later.
Anyway, We see him across the shop and he has his pack and his guitar and had been sleeping on the beach (as is his style) and we asked him to join us for Pizza…at….guess where….Pizza Hut!
He stayed the night on board and played guitar and sang for Mel and I and the next day he met up with his new skipper and crew for his sail down to the Canaries. More on Marco later and we dearly hope to meet him again in the Canaries.
The sail down from Porto took about three days and was OK but started badly.
We had no problem with the wind though it was quite rough as we went round Cape St Vincent and we caught a Dorado on the second day and had it in the frying pan within 30 minutes.
Dorados, also called Dolphin fish (not to be confused with the mammal) and also know by the Hawaiian name of Mahi Mahi is an almost impossibly beautiful fish that races through warm, deep oceans and will bite at pretty much anything that you dangle overboard.
When caught they will jump clear of the water in a sparkle of silver and iridescent green and blue but as they die the colour fades to grey. It’s actually a very sad sight and apart from big tuna it’s the only fish that I find it difficult to kill.
But the passage started very badly.
As we prepared Borne to leave and warmed up the engine we had a visit from the customs and drug enforcement police. They were doing a spot check and for the next hour or so they together with a sniffer dog did a very good job of repacking the boat…..without ever checking the obvious places like the bilge and underseat lockers etc.
They were most interested in a packet of 10 nescafe sachets we have for guests though if we had been smuggling drugs in the new and sealed packets then I can’t imagine it would have made us very rich!
This is why I insist that friends and passengers NEVER bring anything illegal on board. I would hate to lose the boat for the sake of a joint!
As we came out of the busy harbour of Porto there was a lot of traffic in the shape of large offshore fishing boats coming back in and normally these will see that you have sail up and therefore right of way and will make the very slight adjustment needed to their course to pass you at a good distance, almost always accompanied by a wave as they pass.
So I didn’t think it too amiss when one continued on a direct head on collision course as I know he would make a turn at any minute to clear us…only, he didn’t.
He got closer and closer and we could clearly see the spray thrown up by his bow and realised that maybe he hadn’t seen us.
This seemed impossible as he was motoring at speed towards a very busy harbour entrance.
Now we had a problem.
By law I needed to hold my course.
The rules are easy and need to be for a reason.
Its simple. If you know that you need to hold your course and the other guy knows he has to go round you then you can’t hit each other. If you don’t have these rules then, like trying to avoid someone on a street, you might both turn the same way etc and still hit.
So I help position, waiting for him to turn as he got bigger and bigger.
Had he hit us the trip would have been over. Borne would have sunk and we may not have survived, it really was that serious.
At the very last moment, about 20 meters apart and closing VERY fast, I turned hard left, not what the rules say, as I should have turned right in an equal situation but with the sail I had up this was not possible. By pure luck he swung left as well at the same moment and we missed each other within spitting distance (which if I hadn’t such a dry mouth I might have done) and with a wild waving of his hands he was gone.
I still don’t know why.
Its possible he didn’t see us but unlikely.
Its possible he hated the English, after all many do, but I don’t think so.
Maybe he didn’t know the rules?
Maybe he had just had his net fouled by a yacht?
Maybe, and this is my most likely explanation, maybe he was just an asshole!
I have replayed it in my head many times and still can’t see any other way of dealing with that situation other than the way I did but I will give fishermen a much wider berth in future.
In many years of sailing and cruising this is the only time anything like this has happened to me and normally we find fishermen friendly and helpful and generally the nicest of people.
We had spent 6 nights near Porto in the small Marina of Leca.
During our time there we visited Porto for a day and would strongly recommend a visit if you are in the area. It’s stunning.
There is a mixture of old and new, rich and poor, tourist and local with an awesome view from the top of the city to the river below. Go there and you won’t be disappointed.
We met some cool people in the marina including Marco.
Marco is a young German guy who I met at the marina office. He had completed his apprentiship in cabinet making and was now in his third year of the ancient German tradition of wandering as a journeyman.
This involves travelling the world in traditional costume and surviving by plying their trade and hitching from place to place.
I had heard of this when I was hitching in Germany and we struck up a conversation.
He had never sailed before but thought it would be a great idea to catch a ride to America.
I gave him a little advice on where to go in the Canaries etc and what skippers would look for in a crew.
A couple of days later I bumped into Marco again.
I had been to an awesome local fish market with H and had gone a little crazy. I bought a large scabbard fish. It’s a long and mean looking deep sea thing that the Portuguese love and I thought we should try. Only problem is that there was enough to fee half the marina so when I got back to the boat Mel pointed at a small German boat on the other side from us and said that a young couple sailed it and I should walk over and invite them to a BBQ.
I strolled over but they were not on deck and in an unusual display of reservation I decided not to knock on the boat.
On the way back past the office I bumped into Marco. We said hi and he told me he had been offered a ride down the coast a little by a German couple leaving that evening, by coincidence, the same couple I had just failed to recruit for our BBQ.
So off I went with Marco and introduced myself to the Germans and invited them all over.
We had a great dinner cooked on our barbie hanging off the back of the boat (Which an hour before I had dropped into the water and had to dive to retrieve) and as well as the fish, Mel marinated a pork loin.
It turned out really well and I was surprised that we managed to fit not only Mel and I and the German couple but also H and Marco around the table.
The German couple were Anna and Robert and they are heading across the Atlantic as well and we hope to meet up with them again once we hit the Canaries.
Marco got a ride with them as far as Lisbon and is now on the way to the Canaries on a bigger yacht from Lagos.
I suspect Marco’s life will never be quite the same now that the sea is in his blood.
For us, arriving in Porto was challenging.
After a good sail down from Baiona and within a few miles of the port we were hit by fog. I am talking about dense, impenetrable, heavy fog. Like someone had pulled a large white blanket over the boat.
Night was drawing in and strangely, it was still blowing hard but we could see nothing.
I don’t have radar but before we left we invested in some very cool toys that were about to earn their pay.
We could have set out to sea to ride it out but then we have the risk of hitting a fishing boat in the night or running through a net and I felt pretty confident in our gadgetry.
We have a GPS plotter in the cockpit that is a little like playing a computer game as it shows a very detailed map of your surroundings sometimes down to individual pontoons in marinas (not to be trusted) and we also have an AIS.
AIS is brilliant and the best £100 we ever spent.
All ships over 300 tons and any others that care to, send out a signal giving details of the ship, the position, the speed, direction of travel etc and this is overlaid onto the plotter so it shows us and all the big stuff around us as arrows showing where they are going etc so we could ensure that we weren’t about to head into a harbour with a super tanker coming the other way.
We got into the inner harbour after sailing past a row of dim lights that we thought must be the harbour wall but turned out to be a gigantic container ship.
Eventually we found the anchorage and dropped hook within a few meters of VAHA, the boat belonging to H and Eve.
And H, Mate, we can’t begin to thank you for having a pot of hot curry waiting just in case we arrived that night, we were exhausted and starving and you were a life saver.
Other than the fog it was a pretty uneventful trip from Baiona.
Baiona was great. We were anchored in the bay in nearly still, quiet conditions while others paid good money for the privilege of sitting in a busy marina getting hammered by the wash from tourist ferries coming in and out of the harbour.
We have definitely decided to anchor whenever we can….though its an easy life in marinas.
Mel was eyeing up a pretty little cruising boat called a Vancouver 32 and later I get chatting to the owner (hoping to blag the codes to the marina wifi) and next thing we were invited on board for tea.
Tony and Alison are a lovely, warm couple from Newcastle and very easy to get on with so we invited them out to ours for sundowners and later we met Ian, single handing and also on a Vancouver 32 and Tony, an American sailing an old 40’ racer and invited them all along.
We had a really enjoyable evening with the six of us drinking healthy amounts of rum, wine and beer while chatting boats and enjoying the unbeatable feeling of rocking very gently at anchor.
We had an email from Ian a couple of days ago and he is on the way to Madeira so we hope to meet up with him again in the Canaries and unfortunately Tony lost the prop on his racer on the way in to Lisbon, hope you get it sorted soon mate.
Getting to Baiona was fun.
We had wind on the nose all day ranging from 20 to 25 knots.
The entrance into the Baiona is protected on the North by a chain of small islands and reef.
In the pilot it states that you can cut through the islands and it cuts a lot of time off the trip.
Since I bought Borne it’s always been my intention to sail not motor whenever I can and though I’m not fanatical about it I get immense satisfaction out of sailing into or out of an anchorage etc.
We watched a couple of dozen boats cut through the islands, all dropped their sails first and motored through the swell to the passage.
We sailed through…….with the engine ticking over just in case……but we sailed through.
As I expected, as soon as we got in to the wind shadow of the small island we last all wind. It went from 20knts to about 2 in about 2 meters.
We ghosted through, hunting for a little bit of wind almost close enough to touch the rocks. It gave me a sense of achievement that it’s difficult to explain but I love it and suspect its why many people go cruising.
Just as an aside….Mel just told me off. It seems I mess up her organisation whenever I go into the fridge and I am not allowed to any more. To be fair, it’s basically a small box with a lid at the top and when we have been shopping its packed to the brim and to get anything from the bottom you need to unpack the whole thing.
In Baiona we also bought a whole Serrano ham. It’s hanging up by the galley. We are about a third of the way through now and whenever we pass by it we are treated to the rich and almost sweet smell drifting from it like the smell from a hot chicken in a cartoon. Its needs an almost physical effort not to sink your teeth into it.
Not much more to tell.
We spent a lot of time in the Rias, drifting from one stunning anchorage to another as the wind direction dictated.
We spent a couple of days very deep in a bay between the island of Arousa and the mainland which are joined by a bridge. The wind blew hard and we sat in almost still water only 4 meters or so deep while Mel baked a delicious walnut cake and we felt incredibly safe. At one point there was rain and when the sun came out Mel said there must be a rainbow and we went out to find the brightest double rainbow curving over us. We got some cool pics though it had died away a bit by the time the cameras were out and the top was no longer visible. I will upload them as soon as we get a good connection so please check for them on flickr.
After Arousa we went to San Vincent, a pretty and cosy marina in a very upmarket holiday area with a stunning walk around the coast past the most amazing rock sculptures carved by nature with the help of the wind and the sea and balancing at impossible angles. We walked for hours, first on the well organised wooden walkways then over the rocks and then back through thick forest and small rustic villages. We loved it.
Next we headed to Bueu in the small Ria de Pontivedra. To that point I think it was my favourite place.
We anchored in a small bay just off a fishing town.
No tourism, not so pretty but a really honest and friendly feeling place.
It looked like everyone was in fishing. The harbour was quite large and just commercial and the fish came straight in and was sold in a lively market by what we assume was the wives and daughters.
The atmosphere was great with the women all chatting and joking with each other and we stocked up on some seriously fresh fish including some small fish for me to use as bait that they would not let me pay for.
So back to the present.
It’s too late to head out now so we have invited James over for a couple of drinks and are leaving in the morning to explore a bit more of this interesting coast and then on to the Canaries.
I hope I didn’t leave out too much. There was lots of dolphins, sunrises, sunsets, shooting start, perfect beaches, clear water etc, etc but that all gets repetitive.
Oh, and we watched 3 episodes of Dr who last night. I used to hate it but Mel converted me and now I reckon it’s the best thing on TV. Massively recommend it.
And for cruisers out there who want to watch it but can’t because BBC is only available in UK, try Expat shield, just find it on google and download and then you can get iplayer.
Promise not to leave it so long next time.