Sailing south

Theo and I sailed the boat down from Glasgow to Brest in late November, in surprisingly fair weather for that time o the year. Although we did have to shelter briefly in Belfast Lough from a southerly gale, we made good use of the Westerly that followed and had a rather pleasant overnight sail from there to Dublin where we dropped Ciara and Maude, and stocked up before the three-day passage to Brittany. We again started the Channel crossing with the spinnaker, but the wind died, and we ended motoring the last fifty miles to, yes, l’Aberwrach again.

Conditions in Brittany were, again, rather pleasant, and we enjoyed a couple of nice days sailing down to Brest where Theo jumped ship, and Coralie, who had sailed with Apsara from Westport the previous month, joined the crew again, together with a German newbie with no offshore experience.

Crossing Biscay in November can be challenging, especially when you are heading south, but we had what looked like a good, but narrow weather window with strong Northerly winds for a couple of days, and we decided to take advantage of it as it was to be followed by a deep Atlantic low (which ended up being a named storm). We left under cruising chute on the morning of the 24th and passed the Raz de Sein under spinnaker. As forecasted, the Northerlies went up, getting up to gale force with very rough seas the second night. Apsara  behaved impeccably under tripled reefed main and a boomed out genoa rolled to the size of a storm jib,  and after a fast and somewhat furious passage we landed on the Spanish coast on the evening of the third day, getting into Coruna marina that night with a fairly big North westerly swell pushing us in 🙂

From there, the plan was to sail down to Lisbon, exploring the coast of Galicia on the way.  As both crew went home right away, I was on my own for that leg, which wasn’t a problem at all as I was planning to do short coastal hops no longer than 36 hours. Indeed, I had a mostly pleasant time sailing down from Coruna to Vigo and exploring a few lovely anchorages and harbours on the way. The deeply indented Galician coast is not unlike the Southwest coast of Ireland, with many splendid bays (called rias) to explore, but being much further south, the weather tends to be a fair bit warmer.

Things change however once you get to Bayona, at the entrance of the Ria de Vigo, the last harbour before the Portuguese border. The Portuguese coast is a long stretch with few good harbours, and I decided to take advantage of a strong North-Westerly wind to sail straight down from Vigo to Lisbon, a 220 miles leg.  After a good night rest in the delightful harbour of Cangas, just north of Vigo, a fast sail, broad reaching in a fairly big swell brought me to Cascais, just west of Lisbon, in less than 36 hours. After a good night rest there, I sailed up the Tagus river, and into Seixal, a small, friendly and perfectly sheltered anchorage across from Lisbon, where I waited for the swell generated by an Atlantic storm to ease somewhat.

Sailing up the Tagus river

The tidal stream at the entrance of Lisbon are very strong, and it’s best to sail in with the rising tide, and out with the ebb. It hadn’t been a problem going into Seixal, as high water was in the early afternoon, so I had just left Caiscais at low water to avail of the rising tide all the way up the Tagus river, but going out I was going to have to leave quite early. I decided, after two days at anchor in Seixal, to threat myself to a night in civilisation, and booked a berth in the Marina de Oeiras, at the entrance of the Tagus river, with the intention of arriving there near low water and spend the day visiting Lisbon. But after an early start, things worked out better than planned, and I arrived at the entrance of the marina with still two hours of ebb left and a fair wind. Why not continue on? Close reaching in the North-Westerly, I pointed Apsara’s bow towards the southwest. Soon, the combination of the North-Westerly swell running against two knots of ebbing tide reminded me why I had originally planned to wait a day longer in the Tagus estuary, and made me understand my pilot’s book warning that “even the entrance of Lisbon can become dangerous in strong offshore winds”. There was quite a bit of white water a few hundreds meters to windward, as the waves were breaking on the Cabeca de Pato, a shallow patch to the Northwest of the main channel, and even in the main channel, conditions were pretty rough. Apsara ploughed on, burying her bow under nearly every wave, but clocking eight knots over the ground thanks to the favourable tide. Knowing that  things would get a lot smoother as soon as we were out, I just hang on and indeed, we were soon out of the rough patch, broad reaching toward Cabo Sao Vincente, the Southwest corner of Portugal, in far more pleasant conditions.

I rounded Cabo Sao Vicente at dawn the following morning with still quite a bit of swell, but once passed it, sailed with a flat sea towards Villamoura, on the Algarve coast.

I ended up spending far more time than planned exploring the Algarve and the Andalusian  coast, as the wind turned to the South shortly afterwards, virtually blocking my way to the Canaries, as I didn’t fancy a 600 miles beat.

The prevailing winds on this coast are North westerlies, and many harbours offer poor protection from southerly winds, and some cannot even safely be entered if there’s a  southerly swell, but Cadiz, one of the oldest harbour in Europe (it was founded by the Phoenician)  and a most beautiful city was a great place to spend new year before sailing on to the Canaries, when the wind, eventually, turned to the North, giving us excellent sailing conditions and a fast passage to Lanzarote in early January.

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