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.

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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.

Three crew members and a chocolate teapot

Leaving Cascais

Leaving Cascais

I had a serious chocolate teapot episode, starting shortly after we left Cascais: we were barely underway when, in going up the companionway, I lost my grip when the boat bucked suddenly. I swung around and slammed into the chart table, a manoeuvre that knocked the wind out of me for a few seconds and dispersed any tattered shreds of self-confidence that may have remained regarding my ability to do anything on a sailboat.

The first watch was midday to 4, which was Kevin and me, though the skipper and other crew member remained above with us. The weather started to get squally and the sea became much choppier, and the comforting explanations of why the experienced crew wouldn’t go out in that weather in a different boat wasn’t always that comforting.

Also not so comforting were the conversations about ways of people drowning and dying at sea, which made me exceedingly nervous. I carried out my watch unable to take the helm, even under Kevin’s patient and expert tutelage, and was reduced to doing nothing more productive than spotting the occasional lobster pot.

As soon as the watch was over, I fled below, curled up in a foetal position, bleating pitifully, and refused to leave the cabin for the next 12 hours or so. That resulted in the 4-person, 4-hour watch system being trashed and the boys having to do four hours on, two hours off through the night. A very wet night, as it transpired. Mea maxima culpa.

Unlike our luck from Lagos to Cascais where the wind favoured us and we sailed virtually the whole way, the wind never did go right for us this time and we ended up motoring into the wind for the entire journey to Oporto. The seas were rough and choppy, with waves and spray crashing over the deck soaking the boys, who never warmed up or dried out for some time. While I stayed dry, the motion of the rear cabin is far worse than the cockpit, so I spent most of my self-imposed exile convinced that something horrible was going to happen.

Let us draw, for the moment, a veil over my shame and hark back to happier times.

Cleaning the lazarettes

Cleaning out the lazarettes

Our day in Cascais was a day of getting chores done: James mended the galley sink, which was leaking to the cost of the new, unseasoned cast iron skillet. Skipper Paul and first mate Kevin (James and I are just crew, or maybe I should say ‘were’ in my case) cleaned out the starboard lazarette, which was a twofold mission.

One was to help James cull unnecessary items that were taking up valuable space (Kevin having already done so with the port lazarette) and the other was to remove the smell of rotting seafood caused by the razor clams loving stored there by the chef who had planned them as part of Saturday night’s dinner. (You may remember the image of him filleting fish with a ceramic knife on a rocking boat.) The clams didn’t survive to be part of the meal after all, but the plastic bags that should have been binned were. Hence the smell.

Luckily some sort of coconut-smelling oil, a leaking plastic 5-litre bottle of which we had thrown out, had dribbled into the lazarette. Apparently it made a good cleaner and also helped with the smell. Regarding chores, I, of course, had been writing the blog. Always an important chore.

That took care of most of the day, during which time the weather steadily got worse. It did not, however, stop the intrepid travellers from heading into Cascais town for a drink, I mean a stroll around, starting at the Skipper bar in the marina.

I dragged everyone into a charming local wine shop, insisting that we get Portuguese for the boat, and bored everyone with my knowledge of the spirit. We left, however, without buying any, though I do have some secret stashes on board to take back to the UK. Not all of them are secret: apparently Kevin is good at ferreting out that kind of thing.

In the time-honoured tradition of international travellers of all nationalities, the skipper decided we should stop off for a quick one at the Irish bar and the dutiful crew obeyed. A couple of pints and a few minutes of singalong to ‘Whisky in the Jar’ and ‘Wild Rover’ and we wandered back to Masquerade (still raining) for the fish stew that I had not properly appreciated the first time around. Delicious.

We narrowly miss being arrested

The following day (Monday), despite the lousy weather (grey and drizzly), the intrepid travellers set off for Oporto, having been fed a cooked breakfast of bacon, eggs, tomatoes and bread.

We had a slight delay when James when to pay up and check out at the marina to discover that we were not compliant. Apparently we were supposed to have given the marina in Lagos passport details of everyone on board. We did tell them we were going to Cascais, so staying in Portugal, but when when the police in Lagos said we were non-compliant, the marina in Lagos was told to advise Cascais not to let us leave.

Luckily the marina staff were very helpful and said that, as they had copies of our passport, they would scan those and send them to Lagos for us. So our brush with the Portuguese police never materialized, though it makes for a dramatic section heading.

Rough seasThe weather was forecast to be a bit rough, with westerly winds (or possibly southwestern) turning to northerlies later, which meant that we should be able to sail for a little while and then motor into the wind.

A brief return to my inglorious episode: first of all, the boys were wonderful, and it was strangely comforting in the depths of my misery to hear Kevin bustling around the galley cooking the most wonderful-smelling beef stew. I figured we couldn’t really be

James kept coming below with messages of comfort and reassurance: “Kevin says he’ll cook you scrambled eggs on toast if you want,” and, “They say if you want to stay in the cabin for the duration of the journey, that’s fine.” I did at that point sent out silent prayers of thanks to my Pilates and yoga teachers for all those exercises that I figured would allow me to slam my pelvic floor tight enough that I wouldn’t have to leave the berth, far less the cabin, even for a pee, till we got to the UK.

The irony of it all was that, though everyone assumed I was seasick, at no point in my most wretched state of mind did I feel ill. In my defence, and reconstructing the chart table incident, it appears that I hit my head as well as my back and gave myself a slight case of concussion.

48 hours to Oporto

By daylight of the next day (Tuesday) I had recovered enough from the above mentioned and mitigating concussion to emerge sheepishly from below and normal watches resumed. The weather conditions didn’t improve, unfortunately, so poor Masquerade battled on through the wind and the waves of three metres or so for another 24 hours.

Other than the weather conditions, there were no dramas as far as I could tell. We hear one man overboard message on the radio, but unfortunately we were too far away to do anything. It did transpire, however, that fishing vessels seem to have a penchant for trying to get in Kevin’s way when he is at the helm. There were a couple of episodes where there were vessels not only going the opposite way to that indicated by the AIS system, but also changing course whenever Kevin tried evasive manoeuvres. Despite their best efforts, he managed to miss them all.

Incidentally, if it appears that I am acting as though there is no-one else on board, it’s only because on the watch shifts I only ever see Kevin unless the others stay on when their watch is over.

Time passes in a strange way when you are non-stop motoring at sea. Without the distraction of sails to tinker with, motoring against the wind is pretty much the same all the time, except that some waves may be bigger and the boat may lurch more on occasion.

Oporto approach

The approach to Oporto at sunrise

So I can’t give a very good chronological version of events, and there isn’t much in the way of photos, but we did make it to Oporto early Wednesday morning. Dinner Tuesday was around watch changeover (the dog watch time , but I’ll have to do more of this marine terminology later). I was finally able to enjoy the beef stew that had so comforted me in its creation, and it lived up to its smell, being a great way to end the fast that I hadn’t even realized I’d undergone: I realized later that I hadn’t eaten since Monday’s breakfast in Cascais.

I may never get this posted on the website if I don’t stop now, so let’s leave it here and return to Oporto in the next post. The internet in the marina here is playing up so I may have to add photos later in a random fashion.