Porto

Originally we had planned on stopping off at the marina in Porto but, when they emailed us to say it was €44 a night, we went to Póvoa de Varzim just up the coast. Here it costs less than half the price and the train to Porto is €2.80. Additionally the staff are extremely efficient and very friendly and there is a Honda dealer to service our outboard after we dropped it in the sea.

Yesterday we caught the train to Porto for a day of “big town” tourism. The journey was through miles and miles of corn fields and past the huge aquaduct we had cycled past the day before. The aquaduct is 4km long and was built to carry water from a spring to a priory. Any one caught stealing water from it was excommunicated. There was no messing with the church back then.

In Porto we visited churches, the town hall, a monstrous bridge, the old town and a station. It was a bit of a shock to suddenly be surrounded by busloads of tourists feom all over the world and people trying to extract money from the tourists. The station we visited had tiled frescoes showing the history of the city and waves of tourists. In the cathedral a baby was being baptised amongst a river of tourists. Do the locals get annoyed or do the just stop noticing us?

60 meter high bridge in Poeto

The bridge was sixty meters high and offered stunning views of the surrounding city. It is a tram bridge and regularly trams would pass ringing their bells and hoping every one got out of their way in time.

We ate in a cafe on a street one back from the riverside but still paid a lot for a little. Living in small harbours and fishing villages, we had forgotten what happens to prices when tourism occurs.

By mid afternoon we had all had enough of city life and took the train back to the “real world”, peace and quiet. We al three agreed that citys are not for us.

Viana do Castello

Finally we have left Portugal – on the second attempt. The first time there was no wind so we gave up just before the border and spent the night behind the harbour wall at the spanish border town of La Guardia. The next day there was still no wind so we gave our motor a day out and motored south over the border and in to the town of Viana do Castello.

To enter the marina they have to swing an elegant cantilevered footbridge so we agreed to stay the night on the “reception pontoon” out in the river under the shadow of a railway bridge designed by Gustav Eifel (of parisian tower fame). We immediately swung in to action and aired all our cushions and bedding, cleaned the dinghy and went shopping to restock our supplies. As more and more boats arrived we were asked to move in to the marina. By now it was getting dark, windy and we wanted to go and eat. I was unhappy but we agreed and thus had our first attempt at bow to, mediterranen mooring. Cleverly, we had Max waiting on land so it wasn’t too dramatic.

Swinging and railway bridges

Once again Max did a great job of finding a superb restaurant at a reasonable price. We celebrated our arrival in Portugal with Caipirinha, Tapas and a portuguese lesson from the waiter. The building that houses the restaurant is built of absolutely massive stone. The walls are over a meter thick and the ceilings are stone beams on stone lintels. No wonder they don’t need air conditioning here.

As we were sailing south, we saw the imposing Saint Lucia Basilica set on a hill behind the city. This temple was built at the beginning of the twentieth century and can be seen from far out at sea. Obviously in the morning Heidi and Neill climbed the never ending staircase to reach it and, because the 200 meters of climbing was such fun, they then climbed to the very top of the temple as well. The view, despite the haze, was amazing.

Saint Lucia Basilica

Once back down in town, we wandered the old town, drank a Cappuccino (paid for with the money we saved by not using the funicular railway to reach the temple) and then went back to the supermarket to stock up on wine.

Back at the boat, we gave the decks and sides a wash and then left through the swinging bridge and headed back off down river and south using the afternoon wind.

Morlaix

After our long and somewhat circuitous journey from Guernsey, we were anchored in a bay at the mouth of a river next to a fort built to keep the marauding English away. The next morning there was no wind and none expected that day so we decided to take a tour up river. The river is tidal but at high tide there was going to be plenty of water so we left early and followed the rising water upstream.

To begin with we passed a small fishing village and it was immediately obvious we were in France – you don’t see louvred shutters in England. Then the river became much narrower and we were sailing along with cars passing us on the roads on each side. We waved to the occasional cyclists and they returned our greeting. There is something very surreal about travelling on a 36 foot sailing yacht through the middle of the french landscape waving to passers by. A few times we nearly touched the mud below us but with a rising tide we were all in chilled mode.

Morlaix

Morlaix

We passed under a huge bridge that carried the motorway over us and then rounded a bend and saw the lock in to the town harbour ahead. We began preparing to tie up to the chains hung on the wall but the harbourmaster came jogging out to meet us and told us we could enter the lock immediately. Luckily his English was better than our French so he was able to explain where we should berth and give us a little map so that we couldn’t get lost. With the exception of Porthmadog he was the only harbourmaster we have met to be so well organised. Must be a celtic trait.

The harbour is in the historic city of Morlaix so after mooring we set off to explore the old town center and the huge viaduct that carries the TGV trains over the valley. Once we had looked at the old houses faced with stone shingles, we did some serious price comparing in the local supermarkets. We were so successful that we could even afford vanilla ice doused in Baileys (actually cheap substitute Baileys – we are unemployed 🙂

Having spent a morning being tourists we buckled down to some serious cleaning, deck scrubbing and anchor chain remarking (thanks Max) before rewarding ourselves with a bottle of wine with dinner and another glass at the harbour side bar.

It’s a tough life in France.

Mousehole

Yes there is really a village called Mousehole. It is on the Cornish coast, the location for a great child’s book and last night we anchored just off shore in sun and no wind.

I had always imagined that this village would be a tiny collection of fisherman’s cottages hidden in a small, well sheltered creek. The fisherman’s cottages are there. They are clustered round the beach and now all seem to be holiday homes or artists studios. The streets are tiny and were obviously planned when a boat was much more important than a car. On the surrounding slopes the cottages are now crowded by newer, less picturesque dwellings so that the original character of the place is lost when viewed from the sea.

Mousehole

Mousehole

The beach is completely open to the East so there is a huge harbour wall. This is in no relation to the size of the village or the few boats that were stranded behind it on the beach at low tide. It is the sort of wall that you would expect to find protecting a city from invading hordes. It has a small entrance which can be blocked off against storms. We rowed through in our dinghy before beaching on the sand and setting off to explore. Continue reading

Porthmadog

We were assigned the only mooring deep enough to hold us and twice a day we could watch the surrounding boats coming to rest on the mud and sand around us. Most of the yachts in the harbour were bilge keelers specially designed to stay upright while sat on the bottom.

The first day we rowed across to the harbour wall and walked the hundred meters to the Ffestiniog Railway. This is a narrow gauge railway that heads up in to the hills and ultimately to the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. The trains are driven by steam engines and the route very scenic. This was Heidi’s chance to see something else of Wales than sandy beaches and holiday homes. Blaenau used to be a center for slate production so we headed into the hills to look at the post industrial landscape above town and explore a bit. The town itself is doing its best to become a tourist location but there is only so much you can do with piles of grey slate and 200 days rain a year. We broke the return journey half way to take a walk through a Welsh rainforest.

Blaenau Fffestiniog

Blaenau Fffestiniog

On the second day we caught another more conventional train to Harlech and visited Harlech Castle. Since Neill’s last visit thirty years ago they have built a visitor center which explained the building and history of the castle. A quick course in British history for Heidi. Norman conquest, War of the Roses and English civil war all in 15 minutes.

The next morning we planned on leaving but revised our schedule because of Storm Hector. With gale force nine forecast we stayed hidden in Porthmadog. Even so we saw over 20 knots on the anemometer so we were both glad to still be in harbour. The dinghy ride from the yacht club to the boat was exciting.

The next day we left on the high tide to continue our journey south.

Lochmaddy – North Uist

Lochmaddy is where the ferry comes in on the Isle of North Uist. It has a ferry terminal, two hotels, two shops, a doctor’s surgery, a bank and a scattering of houses. Probably not somewhere that people spend a week of their holidays. But Lochmaddy is where the lifeboat brought us to and it turned out to be a great place for Heidi to recover from her slipped disc.

Information_SignThe spare part we needed was a new fresh water pump. We contacted David Richardson – a Sales Engineer at Ferrier Pumps Ltd. David had the part on our boat 46 hours after we ordered it, and that on a remote Scottish Island. Contact him at 71 Cumbernauld Rd, Glasgow, G31 2SN, 0141 554 3454, david.richardson@ferrierpumps.co.uk http://www.ferrierpumps.co.uk

One shop sold the groceries we needed to live and the other sold the screws and glue that we needed for a few repairs to the boat. The hotel sold whisky and John MacDonald at the ferry terminal received spare parts from the mainland for us. Every one was friendly and continually asked about the status of Heidi’s back. As the first person to be rescued by the new lifeboat she was something of a celebrity.

Peat cutting on North Uist

Peat cutting on North Uist – seen on one of our many walks

The village has about six roads and, during our walks, we combined them in every way possible. Now that we are leaving, people are going to wonder what happened to the two people who walked past their house three times a day. I am sure we can draw a detailed map of the village from memory.

Once Heidi was able to sit longer than 20 minutes we took the “anticlockwise” bus to the neighbouring hamlet of Sollas which has a stunning white beach backed by huge dunes and washed by waves off the Atlantic, about 30 houses and the biggest supermarket on the island. We walked along the beach, drank coffee in the community center and filled a trolley at the co-op. Luckily the bus driver delivered us to the end of the ramp at the marina with our three full bags of provisions.

Sollas Co-Op (middle of picture)

Sollas Co-Op in the middle of picture

Tomorrow we plan on leaving Lochmaddy to continue south. We will take pleasant memories of the village and people with us.

Tobermory

Tobermory is the capital of the Isle of Mull and probably most famous for having a high street on the seafront where every house is a different colour. For us it was our last chance to get everything fixed before we sailed off to the Hebrides.

The marina is a community project and very laid back and friendly. We spent three evenings on a mooring and during the day moved to a hammerhead pontoon to work on the boat and so kept the costs down.

The town has a superbly stocked chandlery which we visited regularly. They even had a new fresh water pump which we managed to fit so that we once again had tap water without hitting the pump with a hammer. They also had a “got to have” item – a waterproof tablet holder.

new water pump awaiting installation

new water pump awaiting installation

What the chandlery didn’t have, the ironmongers had. Strangely they also sold alcohol.

The garage in town knew about marine diesels so they came and identified our leak as a slow diesel leak. So slow that we can’t find it.

The co-op allowed us to stock up our rations and the bakery sold delicious calorie bombs which we had to try.

And it rained more than it didn’t.

La Graciosa

First impressions of this island were perhaps colored by the journey to get there. We arrived at the end of a two day sail from Morocco during which two of us had stood watch and watch about including manual helming. The last few hours had been spent navigating around the partly unlit and unseen  islands in perfect darkness and when we switched the engine on it smelt of burning circuits. The final two miles were through a strait with 35 knot winds and when we made fast in the marina, I thought I was back in the Falkland Islands – barren, wind swept and treeless.

Later the wind dropped and we enjoyed a stroll through the sandy streets of Caleto del Sebo and visits to the cafes and bars along the sandy water front. It was here that I realized the serenity that this backwater island radiates. Here the rest of the world is far far away.

view from the summit of Montana Bermeja

view from the summit of Montana Bermeja

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Marrakesch

There is only so much to do in Agadir so, after a few days of waiting for good weather, I decided to see a little more of Morocco and took the express bus to Marrakesch for a little over ten Euros. Most of the journey was through a barren landscape of sand, stone and scrub but occasionally we passed a colorless village with the square minaret of its mosque. A highlight was seeing the snow capped Atlas Mountains in the far distance and in the foreground a farmer ploughing with two donkeys.

Information_SignGoing to Marrakesch I caught a bus from CMI and on the way back Supratours. Both offered a luxury version but I took the standard bus for about ten Euros.

We reached Marrakesch bus station just before sunset and I hiked through the city to the Medina where I found a room on the roof of a house in a side alley. The Medina is a warren of small streets and deep, partly roofed alleys that block the sun. As you move around you compete with bikes, motorcycles, donkey carts and a press of people moving at random. It all takes patience and time. Tiny shops line the alleys and spill out in to the street. Everything from bike repair to butchers and carpenters to tourist traps is mixed together with no obvious system.

a tannery in Marrakesh

a tannery in Marrakesh

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Agadir

We were on our way south from Spain to the Canary Islands and had experienced an “exciting” crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar with more than enough wind, large waves on the beam and a few huge container ships, so were glad to finally reach Agadir. The approaches to the harbour were guarded by erratic fishing boats and strings of unmarked fishing nets which we negotiated shortly after dawn. The buoyage was interesting. We were flummoxed by a buoy with the top painted green and the bottom red. The marina ignored our radio calls but some one was waiting on a pontoon and waved us to a berth.

buoy seen at the entrance to Agadir

strange colored Buoy, Agadir

Despite it being Saturday, customs, police and immigration were relatively quickly dealt with even though they had to copy all the information by hand. The marina had working water and electricity on the pontoons but was let down by a very “north african” toilet block. (We paid €18 a night for our 36 feet.) Around the marina are a selection of bars, restaurants and shops and, particularly at the weekend, it was very lively. The restaurant Pure Passion is well worth a visit with the best irish coffee I have ever drunk and tasty, well presented food. The Wifi from the restaurants nearly reached the boat. Continue reading