It was hard to leave Bayona in more ways than one. Not only was it a nice place to be but I knew that the next legs of this trip wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable as those that we’ve had since Finisterre. Viable harbours along the Atlantic coast of Portugal are fewer and farther between than in Spain, gone are the relatively sheltered Rias and good choice of anchorages and marinas, indeed the pilot book warns that when the Atlantic swells roll in even previously viable harbours may become dangerous to enter. An added hazard is fog, as we already experienced rounding Finisterre it can descend without warning at any time and during our last few days at anchor in Bayona we watched banks of it roll in across the bay whilst we sat bathed in sunshine.
We’d decided to leave on Wednesday morning but one of these fog banks delayed us, when it cleared after lunch I decided to leave anyway figuring we could comfortably get the next 40 or so miles South to our next port before dark. We followed our friends Gary and June on catmaran ‘Friendship’ out of the bay, they were heading back North to Cangas to meet up with family so at the fairway buoy we turned in opposite directions as we headed out to clear the outlying dangers of Cabo Silleiro. Now the pilot books all talk about the ‘Nortarda’ winds that blow down this coast in the Summer months, whatever else the wind may be doing in the morning it’s usual around noon for the wind to switch round to the North and blow at anything up to F6 until sundown, I’d been banking on this to speed our afternoon passage South. But as we came abeam of Silleiro the wind stubbornly stayed right on the nose and then after a mile or so of beating into it the horizon disappeared followed in short order by the land, another thick band of fog had rolled in. We carried on for about half an hour but frankly it wasn’t fun, it’s a total gamble, wait 10 minutes and you could find the fog clearing and the wind turning or things could stay the same for hours it’s anyone’s guess. It’s a gamble in other respects too, thanks to GPS you may know exactly where you are but without radar you’re blind to other vessels, even with it there’s no guarantee you’ll see smaller vessels in the large rolling swells and that means ‘Gleda’ would likely be invisible too. I have an AIS receiver aboard but generally only larger boats carry transmitters. It has to be said that short of being caught in a full gale close inshore being caught in fog is the worst sort of weather to experience. It didn’t take long for me to hit the button on the GPS that inverts the plotted course, haul the helm round and run right back into the sunshine of Bayona Bay. An hour later we were back on the hook drinking a glass of Vino Cheapado.
We stayed where we were the following day and watched another fog bank roll in during the morning, but by mid afternoon the Isla Ciés were clearly visible offshore and the sky stayed clear as the sun went down, with a decent evening forecast things looked good for an early morning depart.
We weighed anchor just after 8 and motor sailed out towards Cabo Silleiro once more, the wind stayed stubbornly out of the South right through the morning though so I kept one engine on to keep us moving, but right on schedule at noon the ‘Nortada’ arrived and before long ‘Gleda’ was creaming along downwind at 5-6 knots with ‘Lewis’ back on the helm. The sun was shining and we spent the time watching the coast glide by and enjoying the ride, we even spotted a couple of sunfish with their strange single flipper flicking up and down out of the water as we passed them.
We’d moved into Portuguese waters about the same time as the wind arrived and with decent progress being made I decided to press on past the first viable harbour of Viana de Castello towards Póvoa de Varzim some 53 miles South of Bayona. It meant a late evening arrival but even a night approach wouldn’t be a problem there. We’d heard that Varzim was much nicer than Viana and we weren’t alone in our choice, some way astern of us I could see ‘Breezer’ a Broadblue catamaran owned by another UK couple Gary and Chris, we’d chatted in Bayona and discovered we had the same plan. I could see ‘Breezer’ flying a nice big cruising chute but pleasingly they didn’t seem to be gaining too much. In the event they arrived in Varzim minutes infront of us having left Bayona two hours after us so they did well. The wind continued to blow steadily and even increased a bit as the evening approached, we topped out at 9 knots downwind with ‘Lewis’ doing a grand job holding our course although I did have to disconnect a couple of times to steer around one of the dozens of pot markers scattered along this coast. All seemed well for a relaxed arrival around 8pm when I noticed that ‘Breezer’ had seemingly disappeared astern, then the slowly rotating vanes of the huge floating wind turbine a few miles off on our starboard side also disappeared and I realised that once again fog had come to play games with us. It was a bit of a worry, Varzim is a small but busy fishing harbour, it was likely there would be other boats around, the plotter chart covering this part of the coast doesn’t have large scale detail of the approach and with a narrow entrance and poor visibility I knew it was going to be testing. I briefly considered staying offshore but with no sign of the fog thinning, the wind increasing, darkness coming on and the next large port being another 50 miles down the coast the dangers of staying out were greater than the risks of going in. I knew I had the approach and entrance waypoints double checked and programmed into both the laptop chartplotter and the GPS so we’d just have to trust to the satellites orbiting up above and the two pairs of MK1 eyeballs straining down below.
Two miles out I got the sails down and the engines on whilst Gail steered in the increasingly choppy sea then, once I had everything sorted I took over, and with Gail keeping her eyes peeled on the port side and me on the starboard I steered tightly to the course leading us in. We didn’t see the breakwaters until we were virtually between them, the water calmed down, the glow of a few lights on shore became visible and there just ahead of us I saw the stern of ‘Breezer’ making her way in…… we’d made it.
The stress wasn’t quite over thought as I then had to get ‘Gleda’ into a tight finger berth against a fresh breeze in what was by then next to zero visibility. But thanks to some very helpful folks on the pontoon including Gary off ’Breezer’, we got alongside without mishap. Gail went below to get the kettle on as I sorted out the springs and warps and gradually started to wind down. The weather was downright weird, the atmosphere seemed saturated, everything on the boat was dripping wet but there was no rain, the wind was fresh but warm and it was starting to get dark. As we sat below drinking our tea and eating a hastily warmed meal of tinned chicken and rice it felt good to be in Portugal at last but I think it’s fair to say we didn’t anticipate arriving quite as we did and not being able to see anything when we did!
After dinner we toasted our arrival with a fitting glass of Port and then turned in. I slept solidly for 6 hours or so but woke well before dawn still buzzing from the previous days events, that’s why I’m writing this in bed right now, it’s still dark and I think it’s still foggy but hopefully the dawn will bring some warm sunshine and the Portugese welcome we were looking forward to, either way it’s great to be here.
Before I finish I have some news to tell. Whilst in Bayona we started thinking about our Winter plans and cut a long story short we’ve decided to spend it in Lagos Marina on the Algarve. We’ve got a good deal for 6 months from October and we’ve made some new friends on the water this year who will also be wintering there. There are cheap flights to and from the UK and we know the place pretty well so it’s a done deal, deposit paid, berth booked.
But before then we’ve still got 3 months of cruising ahead of us, more places to see, more friends to make, more memories to build, more sailing to do. So far this year we’ve sailed 950 miles from Falmouth to the Channel Islands, round Brittany, across Biscay to La Coruña, in and out of the Spanish Rias and now into Portugal, we’ve navigated some of the trickiest waters around and as yesterday proved the challenges continue. That barn in Warwickshire seems a long long way away.
It’s now two days later and we’ve relaxed and started enjoying this place, we’ve explored the city and found it’s mix of new and old fascinating. It’s a lively resort as well as a working fishing harbour. As before I’ll let the photos do the talking but we particularly like the tiled buildings in the old town. We may have only moved 50 or so miles further South but it feels very different from Spain.
We’ve discovered that there is an excellent metro railway service into the city of Port (Oporto) from here so tomorrow (Monday) we’re going to take the opportunity to explore what we’ve heard is a beautiful old city. It’s highly likely that we’ll also sample/buy a few bottles of their most famous export whilst there so I’ll let you know how we got on when I’ve recovered!