We’re finally back in Spain!
After hurriedly leaving Vilamoura, we anchored overnight in the Rio Formosa. Although inoffensive, it certainly didn’t compare to the picturesque tranquility of Alvor, and we left after one night without ever going ashore. By now we were really impatient to get back to Spanish soil, and so we decided to make a break for it and head to the Rio Guadiana, which separates the two countries.
We have mixed feelings about Portugal, but on the whole, we didn’t feel a connection to it- which was a shame. Some places we loved: Nazaré and the beaches of Peniche being a definite highlight. Lisbon and the marina we stayed at in nearby Oeiras were also fantastic. Sintra was also an incredible place, and I’m glad we made the effort to see it. Alvor joins the list of favourites.
However, there were a couple of things that we didn’t like so much. One was the food. I love fresh fish and salad with boiled potatoes as much as the next person, but there’s only so much of it I can eat. The calibre of food at many of the restaurants we went to simply wasn’t very high. As a result, we usually ate onboard, which at least saved us some money. Portuguese tarts are clearly an exception here, as we couldn’t get enough of those little beauties.
Another issue we had with Portugal was one we were prepared for. The Algarve was probably very beautiful 40 years ago, but the tasteless high-rises and apartment blocks have spoiled the coastline, and foreign tourists- mainly Brits- have also eroded any sense of the ‘real’ Portugal in these areas. We couldn’t get away from these concrete jungles quickly enough.
So, we hastened towards Ayamonte. The day started out beautifully: warm and clear with a gentle breeze from behind. We sailed goose-winged and turned the engine off. It was perfect. Kelly and I sat on the coachroof reading, and Nick sat in the cockpit playing the banjo. At some point, I looked around at the chart plotter and saw we were hitting 7 knots. Yes, it did seem a little breezier, now I thought about it. But the seas were calm and we were sailing comfortably, so no worries. Slowly the waves built, as did the wind, and as we recorded 20 knots (from behind at least), we decided to furl in the jib. After all, there was a bar at the entrance of the Rio Guadiana, and it would do us no good to arrive too early. We had timed the passage to arrive at the river entrance at half flood. At this rate, we’d arrive bang on low water, and risk grounding the boat. For possibly the first time ever, we wanted to lose speed. However, the jib obviously hadn’t been doing a huge amount, because we barely noticed the difference. We started to make 8 knots, even without a jib. Okay, no problem, we’ll put a reef in. Er, actually, make that two reefs. Into the wind we went, and suddenly we appreciated just how windy it really was. The boat bucked like a horse, and Nick and I got a saltwater shower as we turned her into the wind. Nick worked as quickly as he could while I tried to hold the boat steady, and we all breathed a sigh of relief as we turned back on course and were once again going with the wind instead of against it.
At some point, Kelly went downstairs. Nick and I stayed in the cockpit watching the swell build, and keeping a worried eye on the chart plotter. We had barely lost any speed at all, and were still due to arrive just after low water. We decided to deal with that problem when we got to it, and as the wind got into the high 20s, we considered putting in a third reef- but we couldn’t bear to turn back into the wind. Another yacht passed us, heading in the opposite direction. They were see-sawing up and down over the short choppy waves. It looked horrendous.
Eventually we reached the river entrance. By chance, we saw a yacht on the AIS that had just passed over the bar we were so concerned about. We radioed him and asked what the depth had been, and he assured us that there was no problem- the shallowest depth was about 3 metres. We dropped the main and headed in. As the depth became shallower and shallower, and as we went over the shoals towards the entrance, the waves- which were now hitting us side-on, since we’d turned towards the coast- got bigger and more powerful. Kelly was still down below, and feeling pretty queasy, unsurprisingly. Later, I asked her why she hadn’t come into the cockpit if she wasn’t feeling well down below. She replied that she was too scared to move! With every large wave, the boat heeled over and a corresponding crash came from down below. Our rosemary and chives, which had been living happily under our sprayhood, crashed down the companion way, soil going everywhere. Books went flying off the shelves, empty bottles of gin fell onto the floor along with baking trays and chopping boards. With every rocking motion we could hear glasses crashing against each other in the locker- we wondered how many were left intact. Kelly grabbed Nick’s banjo, which was precariously positioned on the couch, and held onto it, waiting for it all to be over.
Eventually we made it into the river and it’s relative calm. We moored up in Ayamonte without issue, and cleaned everything up. Surprisingly, nothing was broken- apart from our poor chives, which never recovered. Too exhausted from our ordeal, we cooked up whatever was handy and had an early night.
The next morning we woke, recovered and rested and ready to explore this Spanish town. We walked across the canal and into the old town, and immediately felt a sense of well-being and contentment. We were back in Spain! In the land of tapas and a language we could kind of understand! Ayamonte was a charming and quaint town, and a perfect introduction to sailing in Andalucia.
The first meal we had was a disappointment- but at less than €30 for three of us, we didn’t feel too let down. However, on our final night in Ayamonte we went to a restaurant in the main square, and it was frigging amazing. We ordered dish after dish, and soon enough the waiter got the gist of it. “Do you like fish? You must try the tuna.” or, “The calamari croquetas are excellent. Shall I bring you some?” We just kept eating and drinking whatever they recommended, and it was all absolutely amazing. Possibly the best meal I’ve ever had in Spain. You heard me.
Sadly, we had to leave this morning. We sailed in much more benign conditions to Punta Umbria, a modern Spanish resort town which is opposite a massive oil refinery. Needless to say, we’ll be leaving in the morning. But it’s good enough for a stopover. Tomorrow we continue east with a 50 mile passage to Rota. We’re hoping we’re just as taken with Rota as we were with Ayamonte, because the easterly Levante is forecasted to blow all weekend until early next week, so we expect to be port bound until then.