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Sunsets, Anchor Dragging & Random Encounters

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

3 - 5th November 2021 - Exploring Portimão/Ferragudo, Portugal

We woke up to a lovely still anchorage in a large bay at the entrance to the harbour with the Arade river dividing Portimão on one side and the fishing village of Ferragudo on the other. A lovely expansive beach lay to our right (Praia Grande) with a couple of beach bars and restaurants on the front. The previous night we had heard live music coming from one of the restaurants so figured we would have dinner there that evening. We had been told that Portimão was not that pretty a place (we've since found out from other friends that it's actually quite nice - so another opportunity missed!), and the white washed walls and narrow streets of the village of Ferragudo was much more worth the visit. So we hopped in the dinghy and set off. It was a bumpy ride due to the traffic on the water and the tidal flow but we eventually tied up on the side of the quay wall next to a ladder and far enough away from the fishing boats and the tourist day trip dock. Along the quay were some fantastic fish restaurants and a guy with an outdoor kitchen/bbq cooking the days catch. It all looked so fresh and we decided to have lunch there the following day. We wandered through the narrow streets and came across a square with someone playing the guitar. It was lovely to just sit there and soak up the sunshine and the music.

That evening, we had to conquer another first for the crew of Rockhopper. We had to land the dinghy on the beach, haul it up out of the surf and just leave it. Not locked to anything. As we found out, the consequence of having a sturdy Highfield 3.4m dinghy with a 25hp outboard engine is that it weighs a bloody tonne! Dressing up nicely for dinner was a bit pointless after heaving this thing up the beach. As we gingerly walked away from it and went over to the beach bar for a drink before dinner (and to keep an eye on it for a while), straight away some kids started to play football around it. Later on we found that leaving a dinghy on a beach was apparently giving permission for people to sit on it, leave their stuff on it to avoid getting sandy, and for kids to get in it and tie knots in the painter. Ah well, as long as they didn’t row away with it we were good.

Dinner was a reasonably expensive affair and alas, no music that night. Ah well.

The next day we decided to head up the river a bit further to scout out a chandlers. Always something to buy when you own a boat. We wanted to get a better anchor trip line buoy than the fender we had been using. And Carl wanted a browse. Having arrived just after 12pm we had to wait in a roadside cafe just under an hour for it to open again after lunch. In an unsupervised moment, an ashtray was bought (along with the trip line buoy). €58!! What the ….?

To shake off the sting we decided to go back to that quayside restaurant in Ferragudo for a fishy lunch. The glasses (read buckets) of white wine were superb and the meal was excellent. Whole fish, cooked on the outdoor bbq, and deboned on the table by the waiter. We flopped back to the boat for an afternoon snooze before heading to the beach for one last evening to watch the sunset. Carl got chatting to the owner of the beach bar we were sat in. In a crazy coincidence it turns out that Rui, a local man of the area, once lived and worked in Wigan, and used to drink in the same pub in Widnes that Carl and his mates used to go to (The Crown); around the same time in the early 80’s! As we had now established we were “friends” he decided it was time to break out his homemade Grappa which he reserved for special occasions. Five shots later, after his son reminded him that he had to drive home, he introduced us to his son and daughter, and to Carl’s amazement, they still had their Wigan accents.

6th November 2021 - Portimão - Isla da Culatra/Olhão, Portugal (37.5 nautical miles)

Somehow, after the previous day, we managed to weigh anchor at 8am, after watching the enormous Club Med 2 sailing yacht come in to the harbour. We raised the sails and headed in the direction of Culatra. For almost two hours we managed to sail with one reef in the main, then shook it out, then had to put an engine on when it died altogether. We motor sailed for a bit but by 12pm we had enough wind to shut down the engine. Unfortunately we were beating into the wind which was not particularly comfortable but at least we were achieving around 6kn. The sand bar island of Culatra was another recommendation from our skipper friend Mark. Around 4pm we turned into the channel created by the breakwater and the beach on the other side. We motored up the marked channel until we came around to the northern side of the island and where several boats were anchored. Rather than heading right in amongst the boats we opted to anchor on the edge of the mooring field in 6m, just out of the way of the channel through to Olhao. Although this did not stop the fishing boats and the ferry buzzing really close past us. We opted for another bbq on board that night to ensure our anchor was secure and settled in to watch an uninterrupted view of a beautiful sunset.

In the six hours we had been there we hadn’t moved at all and went to bed quite content. At 3:30am the anchor alarm on Carl’s phone gave us a warning and a loud alarm. Typically it means that we have just swung round a bit and slightly out of the radius set by the app. This time, not so. We quite clearly had dragged about 90m, luckily down the channel, away from the other boats and away from the shore. Very lucky indeed. Under torchlight we raised the anchor and moved ourselves back closer to the other boats at anchor. Obviously we had anchored in weed a bit far out of the usual mooring field and when the tide had turned we came unstuck. As anchor dragging incidents go, it was not great but could have been significantly worse. Just goes to show, you can sit for six hours on the boat and not budge but if conditions change and the anchor is not dug in, well, all bets are off. We could not wait for the water to warm up a bit for us to dive on the anchor to confirm its setting. Alas, not in November!

The next day, with confidence slightly bruised we set the anchor alarm app on the iPad and left it onboard. You see the app we have works on the GPS of the phone not the boat, so if we head off in the dinghy with the phone it thinks we are dragging. We transferred it to the iPad, and could then monitor it with our phone as we went for a wander. Culatra was a lovely small fishing village, on a sand bank with narrow concrete roads between small single storey houses. The houses themselves were not much to look at but people had individually decorated their gardens and it looked really cosy and colourful. As we walked through the village towards the other side of the island there was a wooden footpath that took us to a bar on the beach with sun umbrellas. Yes, our quest for a good bar continued. After a beer on the beach with our toes in the sand we walked back to the village for lunch. There was a huge table being served inside and we waited ages to be served even a drink. As we were getting fed up and about to get up and leave the waiter came over and apologised for the wait and told us of another couple who were annoyed at having to wait. He could not understand how people were so in a rush to be served. “They are on holiday, why don't they just relax!’ We totally agreed with him, silly people, had a lovely chat and ordered sardines and a tuna steak. How very British. It was a lovely meal, simple fresh fish.

The next day we dinghied over to Olhão. This was a bit more developed than Culatra. We tied our dinghy up at a marina which charged us €7 for the privilege. We walked through the town and ended up (yes you guessed it) having a beer on the river front. There are a few marinas here but most looked full and not really able to accommodate us. It was really shallow too, probably fine for us but I would have been nervous in a monohull. We needed to start making tracks towards Gibraltar. As we could not get a berth for our boat in Gibraltar we had contacted the larger marina in La Linea, just on the Spanish side of the peninsular and they had plenty of room for us. Unfortunately it would mean leaving the boat for an extended period of time as the boat can stay longer in the Schengen zone than we can. We had told them that we would be there around the 15th November and time was ticking. We opted to do an overnighter to Cadiz to make some ground. We left at 7pm in the dark, no moon so pitch black, back through the channel. Our tracks through the channel on the way in helped us on the way out.

8 - 9th November 2021 - Isla da Culatra, Portugal - Cadiz, Spain (69.5 nautical miles)

We had planned to stay in a marina in Cadiz and explore a little. It was also a great opportunity to take the train up to Seville. With the boat safely tucked up in the marina we could then book a hotel and have a night out on the town.

For the first five or six hours we could only motor. By 1am we started to get enough wind to at least raise the main sail and motor sail. We kept the revs low to keep our speed below 6kn. The marina only opened at 9am and we did not want to arrive too early. After an hour or so the wind had picked up sufficiently for us to unfurl the jib and switch off the engine. The constant presence of fishing boats with no AIS kept the person on watch alert. By 5am the wind had dropped off considerably and our speed had reduced to 3kn SOG. Eventually we furled the jib and had to put an engine on. As the wind had dropped to nothing we eventually lowered the main sail when we were about an hour out from the marina. We were cutting it close but we would arrive just as they were opening at 9am. As we came into the historic large bay of Cadiz we realised we had made a mistake. We had just crossed from Portugal back into Spain and they were an hour ahead. Doh! We arrived at Puerto America Marina at 10:30am. After calling them on the radio they asked us to head towards the reception pontoon. We surmised which one it was from a satellite view of the marina and headed into a narrower and narrower channel between smaller and smaller boats. Just as we were approaching the pontoon a guy yelled over to us from the quayside to follow him. He was going to show us to our berth, right back where we had just come from! Carl had to spin the boat round on the spot and head back out. The horseshoe berth was right by the marina entrance. We spun it round and reversed it in with a bit of difficulty. There was not a lot of space to spin her round. This was also the first horseshoe berth we’d been in since La Coruna. We learnt another good lesson, have fenders and lines on both sides of the boat so that when you come in, tie off on whatever side you are closest to. You very rarely know which orientation to the wind the berth will be in. Another lesson, don’t assume that the marinero is going to be standing on the easiest side to tie up to. He’d positioned himself to catch our lines on the windward side which, as we reversed in, a crosswind blew us across to the other side. The side that we only had one fender on. Luckily the pontoon was wooden with no sharp edges and we only nudged it softly. No damage done. Anyway, eventually we were all tied up and settled with the help of our neighbour, Mark from their boat Kismet. Cadiz, home for a few days. I had asked Carl how much the marina was when he booked it and he had never asked. When we did, a huge smile broke out on our faces. €18.62 per night for our catamaran, including electricity and water. Bargain! We changed our stay from four nights to five.



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