Chapter Thirteen, August 6 – September 3, 2004

 

We left you in the Azores, in Terceira actually.  We did make the trip to Sao Miguel, and stayed in the marina at Ponta Delgada for about a week.  Another surprise.  Ponta Delgada is a pretty good-sized city, with all the modern stuff one would expect, even one shopping mall. We expected not to like it.  But we did, and we had a very good time.

At the reception dock in the marina, we made some new friends.  Phil and Mary will be with us for some time to come; we’ve decided to spend the winter in the same marina.  We rented a car with them, and made a tour of the island’s outlying sights.  Boy, this place is beautiful!  The volcanic lakes are almost alpine in appearance.  We drove across the actual rim of the caldera on a dirt road for miles, with the ocean on one side, and the beautiful, green valley with its twin lakes on the other.  Absolutely breathtaking! We marveled over the sight of farmers delivering their milk to the cooperative in the early evening.

 Next day, we visited the gardens and active volcanic area around Furnas, in the center of the island.  We stopped and “toured” a tea plantation along the way.  What fun.

Several days later, we visited an outlying town for local music, and watched an exhibition of local folk dancing.  Everything is lit up for these events, especially the churches.  Electric lights outline every nook and cranny of the church, including the bell tower and steeple.  The church usually fronts on the town’s central plaza, which is also ringed with strings of lights.  It really puts the town into a “fiesta mood”, especially when you add the food stalls and people.  A fun evening was had by all.

All good things must come to an end, I suppose.  Ours happened when Hurricane Danielle decided to hook to the northeast and head straight for the Azores.  We had planned to visit one last island in the group, Santa Maria, but the harbor there is somewhat exposed.  With the storm on the way, we thought the more prudent route would be to head for the mainland ahead of the storm, and forego the stop in Santa Maria.  So, off we went, headed for Lagos, on the Algarve coast of Portugal.  Phil and Mary left later in the day, and we checked in with them every day to compare conditions, weather information, and just generally talk to a friendly voice.  This is the first time we’ve set up a radio watch with another boat in mid-ocean, and it is a comforting feeling.

The 868 nautical mile trip took us eight days, the first five of which were picture-perfect.  Warm, sunny, and pretty fast.  Then the weather closed in.  This was not Danielle, but she did push the weather systems in such a way that we got caught.  Winds veered to the northeast, and built to 40-45 knots.  Seas were running 8-10 feet.  At 5:00 a.m. on the 24th, I became concerned that the winds (which were not forecast to be this high) would continue to build.  So we “hove-to”.  (For you landlubbers, that means we just stopped, set the boat up to drift in a safe manner, and held on.)  When the winds eased a bit later in the day, we set sail, and continued on.  Naturally, we got soaked, and sleeping was a bit of a chore, what with the wet clothes and bedding and all, but we were OK, and never in danger, nor were we frightened.  Just inconvenienced.

Talking to Phil and Mary enroute, we decided to change our destination to Portimao, just six miles down the coast from Lagos, and this is where we sit as I write. 

It is a nice town, with a busy tourist area along the beach, and a very friendly, helpful staff.  While moving from the reception dock to our assigned slip, our transmission failed completely.  We crashed stern-first into the dock.  As it worked out, the only damage was cosmetic, and will be easily repaired over the winter.  As I was working on the transmission at the dock, a fellow stopped by to say “hello”.  Get this:  His homeport is Cape Elizabeth, Maine, he is married to a woman from Goshen, Connecticut (seven miles from Litchfield), and he worked in Torrington (also seven miles from Litchfield) with a friend of ours from church!  Go figure.  Anyway, he told me about a mechanic live-aboard out in the anchorage, and gave me a ride out in his dinghy to meet the fellow.  Wayne, the mechanic, and I had the transmission back in better-than-ever trim in no time, and at minimal expense.

 So.  We finally crossed the entire North Atlantic.  All 2,944 nautical miles (that’s 3,389 “land miles”).  78 days in all.  Three countries (USA, Bermuda, Portugal).  Only two, minor “storms”.  Some really great sailing, and some very special touring.  Few serious gear problems, and no injuries to report.  Was it what we expected?  I’d have to say “No”; it was much, much better.  More fun with Bernard aboard than we’d expected.  More beautiful in the Azores than we’d expected.  More interesting people along the way than we’d expected.  More good weather than we’d expected, and an overall easier time sailing than we’d expected.  Overall, a spectacular summer all around.

Once in Portugal, we rented a car, and took off on a whirlwind tour of all the marinas in Spain and Portugal we might consider for the winter lay-up period.  In all, we visited five marinas, in four towns, and stopped for the night in Seville.  Sharon found us a wonderful, inexpensive hotel in Seville at the last minute, and we enjoyed our brief visit.  But most importantly, we found a home for the winter in Lagos, Portugal.  The marina there is on the river, just across from the center of town, and there is a footbridge right from the marina into town.  It couldn’t be more centrally located, and that is something we were very interested in.

Yesterday evening, Wayne (the mechanic) and Julie dropped by for a "minute" (their "minute" is more like two hours).  They live on an old wooden boat, and make their way as best they can, working wherever it comes up.  Julie is Wayne’s "agent", finding him work and making sure he shows up.  That sort of thing.  Julie also is the unofficial camp counselor for the marina and anchorage.  She organizes beach barbeques, parties, outings, and such.  She knows everything and everyone.  She knows the woodworker who will fix our stern-board, the best car rental company ($18/day instead of the $50/day we paid last week!), the bus and train schedules, taxi rates, and just everything.  It seems there is one in every port, and they make it their business to find you; we don't have to seek them out.  Funny.  She receives no payment for these "services", but she does like to be the "go-to" gal.  It's great, just like the yellow pages, but better.

We found ourselves with a few weeks to spare before we settle in for the winter, so we decided to go visit the Rio Guadiana.  The Guadiana forms part of the border between Spain and Portugal, and can be navigated up about 27 miles.  Going up, you can bounce back and forth between Spain and Portugal, and the towns are quite different.  We started in Ayamonte, Spain, at the mouth of the river.  Ayamonte is a lovely, very Spanish small city, with “pedestrianized” streets and quiet plazas.  The idea of “pedestrianized” streets sort of gives one the impression of downtown St. Louis, where they close off a street in an effort to compete with the suburban shopping malls.  But here it is quite charming; the streets are closed to traffic because they’re too narrow to allow modern automobiles and trucks.  And people stroll through the streets in the evenings, whole families out for a walk after dinner.  We have also adopted Siesta.  The sun is so hot in the middle of the day, even in September, that we have to seek shelter.  So, after lunch, we chill out until 4:30 or 5:00, when the towns come alive again.  Things really cool off after sundown, and the evenings are very pleasant and comfortable.

The best part of the Guadiana was Fiesta!  We managed to hit two fiestas in the ten days we spent on the river.  On the Spanish side, in Ayamonte, it was the Festival for Our Lady of Anguish (no lie!), and in Alcoutim, Portugal a few days later, it was their annual festival “on the second Friday in September.”  Obviously, Spain is much more religious than Portugal.  In Ayamonte, we not only saw our first bullfight (a good show; lots of pageantry, color, and music), we witnessed a procession of costumed women and girls bring flowers to the church to decorate the float bearing the Virgin Mary.  The next day, we watched as the float was carried through the streets of the town, in another, long process.

The costumes were great.  Men and boys (very few) wore traditional herdsman’s garb, with boots, vests, and sashes.  But the women!  Each was attired in a traditional floor-length, skin-tight chemise in bold colors and prints, adorned with large ruffles at the shoulders and below the knees.  Hair was worn pulled back in a bun, adorned with combs and flowers.  Spangly earrings and bright plastic bangles completed the outfits.  We estimated that, in all, over two thousand women and girls came to present flowers; the procession took over two hours.  All was accompanied by two sixty-piece bands, playing Spanish marches and dances.  It was all quite wonderful.

The bullfight was as expected:  Matadors – 6, Bulls – 0.  But we did enjoy the whole afternoon.  In the stands, in the cheap seats where we were, groups of 20-30 men came bringing their “tail-gate party” with them.  They had whole air-dried hams, wheels of cheese, sausages of every kind, loaves of fresh bread, and sangria.  And sangria.  When they saw us, obviously tourists sitting all alone, they shared all they had with John.  Yum! (Sharon declined to partake.

A few days later, in Alcoutim, the fiesta centered around loud music.  Alcoutim, Portugal and Sanlucar de Guadiana, Spain sit on opposite banks of the river, but the fiesta was held in Alcoutim. 

At least two live bands every night, followed by fireworks and an all-night “discoteca”.  The disco ran until 8:00 a.m.!  There were, to be fair, also folk dancing demonstrations, and water games on Sunday.  The water games were the usual swim-across-the-river-race, followed by the catch-the-duck-in-the-river-game, and concluded by the, very popular pick-the-flag-off-the-end-of-the-greased-pole-over-the-water feature.  All great ways for the young men to show off in front of the girls, it seems.

Along the way up and back down the river, we anchored in secluded stretches, explored small (small!!) villages of 50-100 people, ran the dinghy up side creeks inhabited mainly by flocks of great blue herons, watched the storks wade in the shallows, and generally enjoyed ourselves.  We ate out only once on the trip; it becomes sometimes difficult to decide what to order when the menu looks like this (for real):

            Rabbit in hunter manner

            Stewed wild boar

            Hare with white beans

            Partridge in Algarve manner

But we had a wonderful time, and returned to Lagos reluctantly. But not before we stopped once again in Ayamonte for an overnight. As Sharon prepared the anchor the Portuguese fishing boat nearby persisted in demanding her attention. She was alarmed thinking they were upset we were in their way and quickly signaled otherwise. Then everything became confusing because the Captain now started flexing his muscles and pointing to his nets. So we smiled and nodded and waited. Seconds later he and his crew of six had put together a large bag of oysters to give to us. And then they posed proudly for their picture to be taken by their very appreciative recipients. By the way, the flexing of the muscles was to promise the result of consumption, increased testosterone!

So here we are, mid September, after a spectacular summer and an Atlantic crossing, packing our bags to cross the Atlantic. Again. This time via British Airways.  We are headed for Houston for yet another Martin wedding. And we can’t wait. To be followed by a visit to Chatham with our friends Bernard and Judy, Halloween with Ian and finally Connecticut for Thanksgiving. We’ll be back in Portugal in December and plan on spending Christmas in Seville. We‘ll report on the flamenco dancing in the New Year!

Until then, be well.