Dolphins on the starboard bow

We are now in English waters and I haven’t been able to write this or post anything for ages so it will be one of those stream of consciousness posts with events in no particular chronological order.

We’ve just spotted land – land ho! Salcombe, to be precise. So we are sneaking up on our destination. We were originally supposed to go straight to the boatyard where Masquerade is having some modifications both essential (holding tanks) and boys’ toys (bow thruster).

But where was I? I am not going to reread or edit so please forgive typos and repetition. ( Don’t forgive bad grammar, though, there’s no excuse for that, and spelling mistakes only if they are typos.)

The sea and winds, though in the right direction when we left Muxia, were higher than expected, so Masquerade was more wind surfing than sailing for quite a while. It was certainly a vast improvement to be running with the wind as opposed to fighting against the wind with the motor on. We were making 5-7 knots rather than 3-4.

I also discovered much later in the journey when I got twitchy about forecasts of gale force winds, that we’d been sailing in gale force winds most of the time.

Before I forget, and I don’t want to sound bitter and twisted, but Kevin and I have mostly experienced rain on our watches, where the other two have been buzzed by a Lear jet and rescued an exotic bird that flew into the cabin.

Still, we were happy with our aerial display put on by half a dozen gannets, and we had many dolphin encounters. It looks as though they are playing chicken with the boat: they swim around the bow, diving under the bow and crossing back and forth. It’s not as though they catch up with us on their way somewhere: they approach from one direction and then head off somewhere else when they have finished playing.

The phosphorescent plankton were also an amazing sight: dozens of little greenish lights in the water around the boat.

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It always rains in Muxia

We are now in the Bay of Biscay and, I believe, outside the continental shelf. For the first few hours (8am-noon, Kevin and me on watch) the winds were rather stronger and the waves rather higher than the forecasts had led us to believe but apparently it is all becoming calmer. I was rather white-knuckled for most of the watch, not sure whether to look at the sky (for a while the blue bits were never in the right place), the sea slightly unsettling at times), or the instrument panel, which held a grim fascination until, at one point, when the wind speed read 56.3 knots, I managed to tear my horrified gaze away.

Paul came up at one point (he caught a fish but it escaped during a particularly high swell) and cheerily announced that the panel was reading apparent wind speed so it was really over 60 knots. Chocolate teapot moment big time. Later, Paul and James both came off watch early and all the boys were very comforting and reassuring: the wind us behind us so it’s the most comfortable point of sale, we are making very good progress, and – the voyage mantra – Masquerade is a game old bird and likes it rough.

I’m back on watch soon so thought I would try and get caught up a bit on this.

Yesterday we provisioned up – not, I think, a pleasant experience for Kevin. He had an organized meal plan and proper shopping list and the other three, like naughty children, were chucking into the basket things that hurt the chef’s heart: instant soup, Pot Noodle, that sort of thing.

Just realized I am out of signal range so may not be able to post this for a while.

After the supermarket dash, James and I found a sports shop for extra layers. It’s the right time of year for that – all the warm stuff was on sale. We did confuse the nice lady in the shop when we said we needed to be warm but rejected a lot of the cotton (bad for layering at sea, I’m told) things she proudly produced. She spoke no English and my Spanish is not up to ‘thin layers of material that is manmade and wicks well’. She also seemed a little confused when I was happy with the less attractive, men’s items than the nice ladies’ gear.

Back at Masquerade the decision was taken to wait out a spell of bad weather and leave at daybreak. We thought we might try to go to the monastery – a local attraction – if there was a long enough break in the rain. During the first spell of rain we made it as far as the marina cafe, where our western villain had been replaced by a young lad who was keen to use his English. Unfortunately he used it to tell us it was always cold and rainy in Muxia. Interestingly, he had been playing ‘I Will Survive’ when we walked in and he quickly changed over to the 70s Americana mixtape they’d had on the day before. I guess disco, albeit also 70s, was not appropriate forvour vintage.

Kevin decided to go back to the boat and do the chef food preparation duties and the other three of us dutifully soldiered on. By now the weather was such that we’d given up on the monastery; now it was a case of looking for somewhere for dinner. That required field work in a few other cafes. In one of them an older gentleman who had been in the fishing tackle shop (oh, yeah, forgot we’d gone there; never spent so much time in fishing tackle shops as on this trip) came over trying to give (sell?) us an umbrella (which I am sure had also been in the shop). Maybe he thought it was ours.

The final stop was the restaurant virtually opposite the marina. It had a huge amount of local charm: there was on old boy at the bar with a bottle of red wine. He looked for all the world like a cross between Willie Nelson and Tom from our local village. Captain Pugwash, the boys said. Later on, a gentleman of similar vintage and level of facial hair wandered in – except this one had one. of those knitted hats that look like a tea cosy. In Rastafarian colours. When we left he gave us a beautiful smile and said, “Byee byee.”
The waitress spoke no English but did confirm that there was a set menu for 9 euros and ran through the options, of which I recognized only sardines and octopus.

Could do worse, we decided, and went back to get Kevin. It turned out that, after his bout of food prep he decided to have a little siesta – only to be disturbed by the old boy trying to get him to accept the umbrella.

Dinner was an experience: the waitress was still there but behind the scenes. Our waitress was short, broad, heavily made up, bleached blonde hair in a French plait, and dressed in skin-tight black leggings and top with multi-coloured, ankle cowboy boots. She spoke even less English than our previous waitress but was happy to repeat everything several times. Kevin was afraid we might leave him as a tip. Still for nine euros, it was pretty good value.

Holding in Muxia

The weather hasn’t improved yet so the decision has been taken to wait till daybreak tomorrow. We are thinking of walking to the monastery but the wind and rain have been lashing down. Bummer. So close to the home stretch. We’ve also had a slight hitch in our domestic arrangements – when I called the cattery to extend Perdy’s stayi was told that they are closing on Friday “until further notice”. Luckily our friends the Joyners are leaping to the rescue to collect her and rehouse her till we’re back.

The Internet is still painfully slow or I would try to upload a few random photos. I have also been working on my handy tips for the sailing wife.

Oporto to Camariña

Leaving Camariña 2

Leaving Camariña

Our plans to move from Camariña to Muxia were somewhat delayed by our marina men (Tweedledum and Tweedledee as Paul calls them) not turning up as promised to help us fuel up. We’d had a power cut earlier so the electrician needed to be called out. Tweedledum said “quatro”, which Paul optimistically thought was four hours, but I thought it might be 4 o’clock and it was nearer 4:30.

Still, we set off, we are in Muxia, and the plan is, weather permitting, to set off for the Bay of Biscay crossing around lunchtime. Four or five days at sea. My lips will never be the same again – I could grate cheese on them.

The monastery at Camariña

The monastery at Camariña

But for now let me backtrack and fill in boat stuff. It is no easier to keep track of what I have blogged than the actual blogging so please forgive me for repetition. Our trip from Oporto to Camariña followed the unfortunate pattern that has plagued us thus far: either strong head winds that slowed us down or winds behind us that were too weak to make any difference or allow for sailing.

There was one moment when the two members of the crew who were on watch decided that the wind was right for sailing. This was after Kevin and I had watched the lights gradually disappear from sight and we motored on in complete, disorienting blackness. When the sailing attempt was made the wind changed direction suddenly, something jammed the helm so it couldn’t be steered and Masquerade wallowed about for several minutes.

We arrive in Muxia

We arrive in Muxia

That is the drawback of the lovely, roomy rear owners’ cabin with the double berth: any noise above, such as winching, pulling sails, or indeed wallowing about, sounds as though poor Masquerade is trying to shake herself apart. So once again I did the foetal position and bleating routine, until I was reassured by the sound of the other crew member not on watch enquiring of those above if it was not possible to pick one course and steer it.

I think the decision was then taken to continue with the motoring.

Moored up in Muxia

Moored up in Muxia

We arrived in Camariña mid afternoon with relatively little excitement, and were moored up by T and T, which the boys said was something more of a curse than a blessing, but they meant well. Three of us headed off to the Club Nautico cafe bar (Kevin not being hungry and having a day of alcohol deprivation in preparation for his spell as skipper across the Bay of Biscay) for beer (coffee and brandy in my case), where we were also given a little racion of paella. The Spanish seem even more prone to handing out little nibbles of food with drink, which I like.

Checking in a the Muxia Marina office

Muxia Marina office

A tour of the town found us one of this shops withe everything, so we got some slightly deeper plastic bowls for eating out of, and I made a mental note that he sold fairly cheap and nasty, but presumably effective clothes that would serve as mid layers for the crossing. I’ve been just on the edge of being too cold on some of the night watches, so I thought more layers would be a good idea. We found lots of supermarkets (we needed milk) and various other stores.

Being somewhat jaded and tired we decided to leave provisioning and clothes shopping for the next day and went back to the boat to regroup. Kevin not being hungry the other three set off again in search of food. Everywhere seemed strangely empty for a Saturday night (yes, we hadn’t thought of that when we decided to leave shopping for the next day) and the one restaurant that the two boys thought looked good was closed for a private party. The nice man did recommend another place, where we had an exceedingly pleasant meal and were the only people in there until shortly before we left.

It turns out that the day was some kind of town holiday, seemingly connected with one of the local churches so most people go to a special dinner at that one restaurant.

Dovecote in Camariña

Dovecote in Camariña

The next day, it being Sunday, nothing was open so we were confined to wandering around the town. There are a lot of dogs in Camariña and an equally large amount of dog poo everywhere, though we managed to dodge it. We also noticed a huge amount of dove cotes, one of which had a very optimistic-looking cat sitting under it. I may not be able to upload photos for all this, as currently I have no internet connection, so you’ll have to take my word for it. In fact, you may not be reading this if I can’t even upload the text.

At least the bakeries were open so we could get something for lunch, and we then made the decision to move to Muxia. Which we did.

Camariña to Muxia

A beer moment in Muxia marina

A beer moment in Muxia marina

The marina here is a little more modern than the one at Camariña, with a very helpful man who assisted in the mooring up and also told us later that our springs were too slack. Kevin thinks that they were tied tightly enough at the time and that storage in the coconut oil lazarette changed their structure.

We had a beer break at the marina cafe, where our racion was some sort of pork rib and chorizo. The bartender was delightful in personality and in appearance like the villain in a spaghetti western. When there was one little chunk of pork rib left, he enquired (menacingly, one could argue, given aforementioned villain appearance), “You no like?” Indeed, we assured him, we liked, with the result that we were given more. “Local,” he said.

There was a little confusion at one point when James asked where was good to have dinner and he said, “Here,” and proceeded to tell us how well he would cook fish and meat for us. We did manage to leave without any unpleasantness and found a very nice restaurant with a charming waitress for dinner, where we had cook your own steak.

Between Camariña and Muxia

Between Camariña and Muxia

It was somewhat interesting in the night: the wind dropped off and then picked up periodically, and my body clock seems to have decided that it should allow for sleep only within 4-hour windows so I woke up at fairly regular intervals to a fair amount of creaking noise.

There is a book by Ngaio Marsh called Singing in the Shrouds and that came to mind when there was a constant, eerie whistling noise throughout the night. I presume it was wind through the shrouds, ropes, whatever the technical term. Now I can imagine what the siren song of mythology must have sounded like.

We have had breakfast, as cooked by chef Kevin, provisioned up at the supermarket, James and I have bought some more layers of clothing and it is currently blowing up a storm complete with hail.

Hopefully it will blow through and we will be able to leave on the Bay of Biscay stretch of the journey.  Gulp.

Fish, more port, and fado music, or Oporto part 2

Port signs

Port maker signs along the river

A quick change Wednesday night and we were out again in Douro Marina, heading for dinner at the San Pedro (or something like that) fish restaurant that everyone recommended and which, to be fair, we had seen at lunchtime when they were grilling fish outside, and thought it looked good. It was a bit of a disappointment, unfortunately, not so much that there was anything wrong with the food as the fact that it wasn’t cooked all that well – or, rather, too well done. Paul and I had squid and prawn kebabs, which were as chewy as anything, and James’s slip sole was also a bit on the leathery side. Kevin seemed to get the best as he declared his fish ok.

View of bridge in Oporto

View of bridge in Oporto

Thursday morning was partly taken up with the aforementioned buggering around with the engineer looking at the engine, but let’s not go into that again. There appeared to be more to do, so we set off to the fishing tackle shop, apparently a high priority. We set off for Oporto again, firmly clutching our Churchill’s voucher, had an extensive stop at the fishing tackle place and then James had to go back to see the engineer’s boss so the boys went one way and James and I headed back, him to eventually be charged 30 euros for somebody doing nothing useful on the engine, and me to book a table for dinner than night in a restaurant advertising a fado music evening.

A bit like herding cats, but I finally found the boys who had kindly stopped for a beer break to allow me to catch up with them. It was at a cafe, also fish grilling place, with a nice young man who had cheerfully been shouting at us the day before to have the best fish around. While we were there he continued his spiel, this time with the passing by women: “Hey, beautiful girls, come and taste my fish!”

The tram in Oporto

The boys on the tram in Oporto

We continued on our way, and had to stop at a small cafe near Churchill’s so James could catch up with us. We had a lovely time; the nice young man there was very earnest and did a bit of the old corporate stuff but seemed entertained by the crew. We expected to pay something once we’d moved from beyond the basic tasting and tried the 2011 vintage at 65 euros per bottle plus a couple of others but he assured us it was all free. We did have a slight urge to buy port in Oporto but we never did manage that.

Does it sound like all we did in Oporto is eat and drink but we did do a lot of walking around and looking. I had convinced Kevin that he should buy Portuguese cork postcards to send to his nephews and nieces; he went along with that and later discovered that they are virtually impossible to write on and definitely impossible to stick a stamp to.

Tram

The tram in Oporto

Having said we did more than eat and drink, we found a very nice tapas place in one of the main squares, had a few nibbles and wine (or beer), watched James on a business call, and listened to students playing music. For beer money, our waitress explained. Her parents owned the cafe and she was working there while waiting to hear if she had been accepted to Birmingham university to study for a PhD in forensic psychology.

Speaking of Birmingham, here’s another of those small world moments along the lines of Kevin’s sister living in my mother’s nome town of Huntington, it turns out that Paul was in the police force with my best friend’s husband.

Back to Oporto and Afurada. We thought we would take the tram and water taxi back again this time, but we ended up walking and taking the taxi. Same boat man, equally pleased to see Paul again.

We had time to change for dinner and head off for our 8pm sitting. Apparently everyone turned up around the same time, we had nibbles and some music, soup and some music, main course and then dessert and coffee and more music. About midnight it would finish, we had been told, but given that we wanted to get off early we figured we’d leave early.

Village

The market in Afurada

The food was excellent, the service was cheerful and we enjoyed the music. Although fado music is narrative-based and we couldn’t understand a word of it, we clapped when everyone else clapped, laughed when they laughed and sang along when it seemed appropriate, even if we just sang, “La la la.” We duly left around 10:30 so had a reasonably early night.

Cleaning lampreys 2

Cleaning lampreys

Afurada is a charming little village, a traditional fishing village, and the local speciality seems to be lamprey, which Kevin was keen to try but never found the opportunity. There is the public laundry, which I have mentioned, and many of the Portuguese tiled houses, which are so charming.

We fuelled up the next day, which I think I have mentioned in the context of James’s wasted 30 euros, and off we set.

We are currently in Camariña, but the plan is to have lunch, fuel up and then head off to Muxia for no other reason than that it’s different. And more of all of that later.

Trams, boats, and funiculars

The approach to Ria de Camariñas

The approach to Ria de Camariñas

We are now in Ria de Camariñas (moored up at the Club Nautico) waiting out some bad weather. We arrived yesterday having battled our way from Oporto with a mixture of weather, nearly all of which was either head on or had no power at all. By strange coincidence, or maybe not, Masquerade’s previous owners stayed here for a while when they brought her from the UK to Portugal.

DSCN0621

Mooring up

So as we sit here in the rain wondering if we should have moored instead in Muxia (where the Virgin Mary appeared to St James as he was preaching), I could try and do some backfilling on our Oporto trip.

Once we had established that we needed to do

Afurada

Afurada village

something about the ignition (or whatever) not turning off, we headed into the nearby village of Afurada with James and Paul on a mission for cooked breakfast. That became a notion to settle for toast, and we eventually ended up, after much sign language, with ham and cheese croissants. Very nice they were, too. And we got a nata each, the custard tart that Kevin had been hankering after.

Douro marina

Douro marina

Onwards into the town of Oporto itself (technically, the Douro Marina, where we were moored, is in Gaia on the other side of the river), which was a couple of miles walk along the riverbank. A beer stop as it was very hot, and we resisted all the port houses and their tastings (even Churchill’s where we had a token from the marina for a free tour and tasting).

I should say here that when James and I checked in at the marina, the woman was exceedingly friendly and helpful, giving us maps of the area and spelling out just about every local landmark and attraction, including – which I forgot to mention – the local public laundry where people could wash their clothes and leave them to dry on lines by the water.

Boys and vat

Yo ho ho and a barrel of port

Our resolve finally cracked and we dived into a port house (cave) demanding a port tasting, forget the tour, just give us the port. The posh option gave us two chocolates each as well as three kinds of port (white, ruby, and tawny), and we had a charming woman telling us all about the house – Burmester.

Refreshed and happy, we crossed the bridge and took the funicular up into the town on the basis that it would be easier to do that and walk down. And I love funiculars.

Tasting glassesPorto (or Oporto) is beautiful. We wandered around admiring the scenery until the desire for lunch kicked in. We found a lovely wine and port shop that said it served light lunches as well, so we dived in there where we had a very palatable bottle of Douro wine with a cheese plate and flambéed sausage. Lovely. But we managed, as with the Burmester cave, to leave without buying any port, though we were templed by the Niepoort which the Burmester lady had told us was very good.

The idea was to take the tram and water taxi back so that we could experience different forms of transport. Paul spotted a butcher on the way, with black pudding that had been on the wish list for breakfasts, so in we went. While we were there we were admiring one of the legs of dried (smoked, as it turned out) ham that were hanging up; it was such a low price we couldn’t resist so bought one for the boat. (And some lovely meals we’ve had out of it too.)

Port signsWith Kevin lugging the ham, we wended our way back through the town to find the tram stop, finding along the way a jewellery shop where James was able to have his watch strap repaired (one of the tiny screws had fallen out and luckily I found it in our cabin). The shop was run by a charming couple who didn’t charge James for the repair. The other two in the party were slightly cynical and said that it was because he had bought me a pair of earrings.

Water taxi to the marina

Water taxi to the marina

The tram stop – by happy coincidence – was close to a bar, well several, actually, so we stopped there for a quick one. Tram ride to the water taxi across from the marina, where Paul made friends with the water taxi driver, and back to the marina we went, Kevin still lugging the ham.

I think we may be about to go into the town itself to see if we can provision up on a Sunday. So I’ll stop here and try to get this online.

More anon.

Blogging on a boat ain’t easy

Captain’s log: star date 2016.4.9.

Between that and the fact that Kevin let me say, ‘Klingons on the starboard once when I was on lobster pot lookout, I have momentarily quelled my childish Trekkie-wannabe urges.

Poor Masquerade is being put through her paces after a few years of relative inactivity. We have been asking quite a lot of her, particularly a lot of motoring against strong winds. It was like that pretty much all the way from Cascais to Oporto and now again as we head from Oporto to Camarinhas to wait out some more bad weather. Although, once again we seem to end up going through pretty crappy stuff to get somewhere.

We had a great time in Oporto, but this is supposed to be more of a nautical record than a travel diary, so I’ll try and focus on boaty stuff for now and backfill later with touristy details. Besides, I don’t want to go on about port tasting and fado music and make it sound too much like the only fun part of sailing is the not sailing part.

So, some boaty things I may have neglected to mention: we managed to lose a fender somewhere between leaving Cascais and bringing the fenders in. On the dolphin, starry night evening watch, iI also saw phosphorescent plankton – dozens of little, greenish-white lights in the water alongside the boat.

We reached Oporto around 8am on Wednesday (I think, forgive me if I’m wrong as I have lost all track of time. A few days ago, anyway) and moored up on what we thought was the visitors’ pontoon. That having gone well, apart from a stern warp coming loose at a critical moment, we settled down for a breakfast beer. (Super Bock mini, a bare soupçon per bottle.) Just as we’d finished them (I don’t want to tell tales but I was the only crew member who had one rather than two), a nice young man from the marina office came along to tell us there was a better pontoon, closer to the facilities. So we upped sticks and moved.

That was the point at which the boys discovered the engine wasn’t turning off; I won’t bore you with the full details but it went something like this over our time in Oporto. Phone call to Ralf, who had serviced the engine back in Lagos, or possibly to John. It was probably a wiring thing or a solenoid thing. The boys twiddled a wire, which provided a short-term fix and (I think) indicated that it was most likely the solenoid. A visit to the boat repair place on our way into town, which involved James shouting over the fence to someone working on a boat. The someone didn’t have a solenoid but could send someone round to the boat at 9am tomorrow. An engineer with less English than our Portuguese turning up the next day, poking around for a while and then saying the solenoid needed to be replaced. James being grumpy at the 30 euro cost and even grumpier with himself for not returning to the marina in time to get it ordered the day before (see comment above re port wine tasting). Deciding the short-term fix would have to do going forward till we could get a replacement. James twiddling wires when we stopped for fuel on our way out, fixing the problem and then being even grumpier about the 30 euros.

Kevin has continued to feed us in a grand fashion. Have I mentioned beef stew? We have also had cooked breakfasts and pasta with smoked ham – said ham being part of the future touristy backfill – and broad beans, not only podded at sea, but double-podded. (I helped.)

But back to my opening line, ok, title, be picky. This blog thing is not easy when you’re at sea. Although I have written things when I’ve been all at sea, which is different. I’ve had to snatch windows of opportunity as and when I can, on various devices in dark conference halls, around seminar tables, and on various forms of transport, but with the 4-hour watch system I’m either on watch, sleeping, or being hurled around the cabin too much to hold a device, far less type anything.

Last night, for instance. Kevin and I had just finished our midnight to 4am watch and I thought I would just write a little so my few faithful readers didn’t get bored and give up on me. Let me just add that the weather had gone from strong head winds to not such strong ones, to some reasonable weather to a not very nice evening, and we had watched all the lights on the coast disappear gradually until the visibility was so poor we could no longer see the lighthouse lights, and it was raining. The boys upstairs decided the wind was finally in the right place and raised the sails. Just about the time a squall hit and shifted the wind direction completely. It can’t have been fun for them up there with no visibility and rain and I think there may have been the occasional slight sense of humour failure, but it certainly made it impossible to write anything.

Once again, if I don’t get this up there may not be another chance for a while so more anon.