Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Viva Portugal

Ben with amazing white chocolate drink in Baiona - five seconds after this he spilled it all over the table...

After nearly three months we’ve entered our third foreign country – Portugal. We came to Viana do Castelo only because it seemed like a convenient hop in possible fog, but in fact it’s a lovely, historic town. We were greeted on the pontoon by a marinero who spoke perfect English and welcomed us to Portugal. Last night we ate out at a place recommended in the Rough Guide and not only was the menu in English, our waiter also spoke excellent English (and German to the table next door). Ben has announced that he likes Portugal.

Amazingly, Portuguese is the world’s fifth most-spoken language. I guess most of those people are in Brazil, but here they clearly find it beneficial to speak other languages, and if one of them is English that’s great, as spoken Portuguese is said to be almost incomprehensible (written Portuguese is quite like Spanish and even more like Gallego).

We kept fairly well offshore on the way here to avoid breaking waves and fog, but as we hoisted the Portuguese courtesy flag at the border we almost ran into a lobster pot marker and there were hundreds more markers – many extremely hard to see - all down the coast. We are fairly used to this in the UK and there were a fair number of pots in France too, but they are much rarer in Spain. We’re planning a long, overnight passage in the next few days and we’ll probably need to get well out beyond 50 metres depth to get away from them. The deepest we’ve ever seen one is 109 metres – it needs a lot of string to set your pots that deep!

Yesterday we climbed to the top of the hill to the Basilica of Santa Luzia, up what the Lonely Planet guide describes as fourteen zillion steps. (We didn’t count them). National Geographic once said it had some of the most beautiful views in the world but we could see only four or five miles at most. By the time we came down the top of the hill was wreathed in mist, and it was raining and distinctly chilly (by Spanish standards). Today, weather permitting (and the fog has closed in again), we head south to Leixoes.

Saturday 9 September

We’re in Baiona (Bayona) which will be our last port of call in northern Spain. Like La Coruña, Baiona is something of a crossroads and popular with British yachts. Within 30 seconds of our arrival, Ben had met up with eight-year-old Maddy from Moon Dance, who we met in La Coruña, and Donnache from Khepri, whom he spent several days with in Vilagarcia. He was absolutely thrilled.

Next to us was a big Swiss Ovni, a distinctive aluminium boat, called Anthea – we remembered seeing her two months ago in Lezardrieux and Trebeurden. We even wondered if Intemperance might still be here, but as she should have left two weeks ago we were quite glad not to find her here. We also chatted to the owner of Mingulay, who was on his way to Scotland from after keeping his boat for several years in the Algarve, but having encountered fog and even rain in the past few days has now decided to head south again.

Columbus left from here in 1492, so it’s obviously been a popular jumping-off point for a while!

Above - replica Pinto in Baiona - now you see it, now you don't

Fog has been the bane of our lives for the past couple of days. When the 35 degree temperatures ended last Tuesday the visibility closed in, and by the time we left Vilagarcia on Thursday we could see only a mile or so. We were heading for a small marina at the head of the ria, only 20 miles away, but the visibility got worse and worse. Thank goodness for the GPS chart plotter and radar, which between them tell us where we are and what other shipping is around. As we reached the entrance to San Vicente I told Sam and Ben on deck that we had to spot a crucial red buoy. I could see it quite clearly on both the chart and the radar, but we finally spotted it looming through the mist only about 100 metres away, and it was a big buoy probably three or four metres high.

San Vicente was delightful and incredibly peaceful after Vilagarcia, but Sam felt we should press on. Once more we left in adequate visibility and once more the fog closed in suddenly. The wind also came and went, changing direction through 180 degrees and strength from nothing to 15 knots. We anchored during a clear patch off the gorgeous Islas Cies, and I swam through the cold turquoise water to the white sand beach, but five minutes after I got back to the boat a squall hit us and we upped the anchor and left. By the time we reached Baiona the visibility was going again.

Thank goodness it now seems to have cleared and the sun is shining on bits of the ria that we haven’t seen before! We were planning a long, 70-mile run down to Leixoes in Portugal tomorrow, but because of doubts over the weather have decided to run only 35 miles to Viana do Castelo. It sounds like a good introduction to Portugal. On the other hand it’s frustrating to be leaving Spain just as we start to get to grips with the language. Sam managed to obtain a crucial circlip (a sort of horseshoe-shaped spring washer) for the loo pump today in a ferreteria (ironmongers) with a combination of drawings, English, Spanish and sign language. We’re told Portuguese is impossible to understand but more people speak English.

The autohelm which took almost two weeks to reach us

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