Sunseeker Chapter 16
We enjoyed nearly three weeks in Bayona before casting off once more to continue our voyage south. This time we would remain within sight of the land as Sunseeker steadily forged her way along the flat, featureless western coast of Portugal. Leaving Bayona in the late afternoon we planned an overnight passage to take us to Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city and major port. As the stars came out to light our way we were accompanied by a small number of dolphins. On this occasion their presence was betrayed by the flash of phosphorescence as they hurtled towards Sunseeker. We stared, mesmerised into the depths of the ocean as millions of tiny organisms signalled their alarm at the passing of our marine acrobats, outlining to perfection their torpedo-like shapes.
It was a strange sensation, almost of being suspended, to be sailing along between the pitch blackness of the ocean to starboard and the bright shore lights of the villages and towns just a couple of miles to port. In the early hours of the morning a procession of lights left the shoreline ahead of us and, passing a few miles ahead of Sunseeker formed a semicircle to seaward of us. The local fishing fleet, out from Porto were taking up station for the night. Occasionally we would be blinded by a powerful spotlight as a smaller, open boat searched for the next lobster pot. One came close, its crew perhaps curious to learn of the stranger in their midst. As they passed by a gabble of greetings were shouted as we waved our hellos. ‘Bom Noit’ was a phrase which we later recognised and identified as ‘Good Night’. The boat was quickly past and silence once more returned leaving us with a warm feeling of ‘Hail fellow, well met’.
Ahead of us now were little islands of lights as we approached the Rio Douro and the roadstead off Portugal’s second port, Porto, famous, of course, for its port wine. I was confused by the lights and thought my navigation was wrong. But, as we drew nearer I realised that they were ships lying to anchor, perhaps awaiting their turn to enter the port. Rene and I had decided against putting in to Porto because we wished to meet up again with some of the many friends made in Bayona. Most had stated they were to sail direct for Lisboa and as we had, as usual, dallied in port we wanted to catch up. So we laid Sunseeker on her course to follow the, still, low-lying coastline, sailing into the rapidly warming up day. As is often the case along this coast we had no wind and motored steadily south letting the autopilot do the steering. In the early afternoon sunshine we suddenly started sailing in a circle as the ancient autopilot had a tantrum and refused to function. We were back to steering by hand and as the afternoon wore on the wind returned for a while. We enjoyed a lively sail, dodging the distinctive Portuguese fishing boats as they trawled the waters to supply the local markets and hotels with the nations favourite food.
Afternoon sunshine gave way to a grey dusk as a sea fog enveloped Sunseeker. We were very fortunate to be sailing at a time of electronic navigational aids and we had bought a GPS instrument which fixes a ship’s position at least once every second. It is an easy task to translate the latitude and longitude from this electronic wizard to the chart. If this is done on a regular basis, particularly near the coast, a certain peace of mind can be maintained, even in the dark and whilst enshrouded within a fog bank. Of course, to be even safer in a fog it would be nice to have a radar set and be able to ‘see’ other vessels. Sunseeker’s purse is not deep enough to afford such a luxury but we have a radar reflector which did afford a little peace of mind, assuming that the other boat is using its radar set and its crew are alert. With no wind, the navigation lights reflected by the fog and the engine donk, donking it was a pretty soulless night and we were glad to be aware of the slight greying of the sky to our port side, over Portugal and the great bulk of Western Europe.
We were now approaching Cabo Carvoeiro, another great lump of mainland jutting out into the ocean. This one boasts a couple of off-lying islands, the Os Farilhos and Berlenga. It is perfectly possible to sail between them and the mainland although the Portuguese current at this point is funnelled between the islands and the cape, increasing its speed and calling for diligent navigation. As Sunseeker approached this area the fog was being gradually burnt away by the morning sunshine and we had a good view of both the islands and the mighty cape. Many fishing boats were making their way towards the harbour of Peniche, tucked under the arm of the headland to the south. Sunseeker joined in the procession with Rene at the helm as we rounded the bluff headland to make our way along the couple of miles of sheer, undermined rock-face towards the western mole.
As Rene cautiously steered Sunseeker to safety I was able to admire the scenery. The flat-topped headland is crowned with a row of houses and a radio station. As the harbour walls draw closer the massive bulk of the Citadel towers over us, reminding us of the long, seafaring history of the Portuguese peoples. Pirates (often English) were a problem along this coast in the time of the Spanish occupation and the defensive walls still remain. Rene had to concentrate on her steering as she took Sunseeker around the end of the mole and into the calm waters of the wide harbour. To our right we spotted a number of yachts and headed towards them, seeking a vacant mooring buoy. Fat Pad and TinTin were both here, friends from Bayona. We found a large mooring buoy close by and tied up to it. Obviously designed for a much larger boat than our Sunseeker we, nevertheless, felt safer tied to it than lying to our own anchor. Our confidence in using Sunseeker’s anchors came at a later stage in our voyage.
Shortly after tying up and enjoying a cuppa we were visited by the harbour master. He arrived dressed in combat fatigues and massive boots in an inflatable with a high powered outboard motor,. Sure that he was going to send us away from our buoy we were pleased to see him smiling as he climbed aboard. In halting English he explained that, as we were newly arrived in Portugal it would be necessary to complete a number of forms. We have since learned that the Portuguese are fanatical form fillers, probably a legacy from their, relatively recently overthrown, restrictive dictatorships. He was very friendly and assured us that being tied to our massive mooring buoy was ‘No Problem!’.
End of Sunseeker Chapter 16