Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Portimao

Sunday 8 October

We’re on our way back to Lagos having got as far as Faro, which is not only the home of the Algarve’s airport but is also, from a sailing point of view, surrounded by interesting, sheltered sandy creeks and lagoons. Unfortunately, either the creek we chose is the windiest spot in the Algarve, or we were unlucky with the weather, but we had a steady westerly force 4-5 blowing all afternoon and most of the night – enough to make the prospect of a one-mile dinghy ride into Faro rather unappealing. So we practised setting two anchors (most successfully, as we were very secure and swung only a little bit when the tide changed) – and made lemon scones (slightly less successful as I didn’t have any baking powder or self-raising flour, but interesting in a soggy kind of way). We have three anchors on board, one of which, the Fortress, had never been used, so it’s good to get them wet occasionally.

As we came out of the Faro entrance on Thursday morning we debated whether to press on to the Rio Guadiana and the Spanish border, only 25 miles away, or to head back. Having turned towards Lagos we realised we were retracing our steps for the first time since we left Suffolk Yacht Harbour, and also that we were travelling clockwise around a country for the first time since North Foreland in Kent. As a result I immediately got my east/west and port/starboard understanding, very shaky at the best of times, into a complete tangle.

After our windy night in Faro, and a forecast north-westerly force 4-5, we were expecting a wet and unpleasant sail. In fact as we left the pierheads the wind dropped and veered to the south-east and the sun came out – we only just had enough wind to sail slowly, and Ben caught a record eight mackerel!

On the way to and from Faro we stopped off at Vilamoura. We visited it by car many years ago and thought it was awful, but seen from the sea it is rather more attractive. Its selling point for us was its absolutely stunning beach – miles of clean sand and Ben-sized breakers, backed by low red sandstone cliffs and a nature reserve. Despite the beach, and the fact that its marina is the biggest in Portugal, Vilamoura is not really about sailing and going to the beach, but about golf and shopping. We missed out on the golf but indulged in considerable shopping – a T-shirt each, a pair of trousers and a necklace for me and, at Sam’s request and despite Ben’s vehement objections, I also bought a bikini. In Spain and Portugal all women on the beach wear bikinis, even if they are 92 years old and as wrinkled as a prune, so my slightly saggy 50-year-old figure is not a cause of embarrassment – except of course to Ben (and Guy when I told him).

Much to our surprise we liked Vilamoura. It’s quite upmarket and while you could hardly call it tasteful, everything is well done and there’s a vast choice of restaurants and activities. The odd thing is that it’s mainly devoted to motorboats and although there were quite a few sailing yachts, those with occupants were so scattered that none of them were even close enough to talk to – possibly the first time we’ve found that in a marina on the whole trip.

The marina of Portimão, where we are now, is really in Praia da Rocha, a modern beach resort which is not that attractive, but it does have a lovely view across the river to the traditional village of Ferragudo, with its fort, church and white houses straggling up the hillside. Yesterday we took the dinghy over to Ferragudo and spent the day in the recommended way, with lunch of fresh charcoal-grilled sardines (and lots of wine) at a quayside café and the rest of the afternoon paddling on the beach. We’ve also met up with the crew of Mystical, Ed and Christine, whom we first came across in Vilagarcia – they are leaving their boat here in Portimão. It is delightfully peaceful here – rather to our surprise, as Praia da Rocha is said to be very noisy in season – but we’re a long way from shops and decent supermarkets which are in Portimão proper, and the boatyard is a mile away up the river, so all in all not as convenient as Lagos.

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