..,One of the great early explorers his legend is still living today
The one who died in Cochin in India from Portugal so far away
He risked the wild waves fraught with danger in his quest for fortune and fame
And he discovered the sea route to India and Vasco Da Gama was his name.
And I thought it was a Glasgow thing, these sweet buttery tarts filled with thick set custard ,that are my delight and diet downfall, however it seems they are a speciality of Portugal, oh dear! However as we had actually walked today I decided I had earned one – it was so worth it! Figueira da Foz was a pleasant wee place, functional but fit for purpose and supplied all we needed including pastries! Daylight had revealed we were in a much bigger place than appeared last night in the gloom. Showered, filled with water and fresh supplies bought, we carried on our journey, realising now we had a fairly tight timescale to get down into the Med and over to Sicily for the winter approaching.
Headed out in lovely sunshine, I took advantage by some sunbathing and was later joined by an enormous gathering of dolphin who seemed to take it in turns to head up the bow and endlessly streaked along, diving under the keel and leaping off the sides. The water was crystal clear and calm and I could see every mark on their shiny bodies and teeth as they smiled up at me.
We realised we had left a bit late as by the time we approached Nazare down the coast, it was dark, not the best time to navigate the coastline renowned for the biggest surf waves in Europe! Portuguese surfer Hugo Vau surfed an incredible 115ft wave known as “the big mama” in January this year, yet to be authenticated by the Guinness Book of records as the biggest ever recorded surf! We crept in, me shining a torch to pick out buoys and fishing rafts and finally dropped anchor beneath the towering cliffs on one side and the breakers surging on shore on the other.
After a long day we nestled in the cabin but I could not sleep due to the noise of the waves and the swell.
A long day at sea followed, not much wind so unfortunately had to motor which is noisy, expensive and against how we like to travel with as little impact on the environment as possible. However needs must. Next landfall was west of Peniche at some rocky islands, Ilha da Berlenga, doubling as a bird nesting reserve and a day tripper resort. The coastal geography was fabulous with lots of arches, stacks, caves and wave cut platforms but the human geography less impressive. We explored the suggested anchorages but one was too narrow, the other too scary at the entrance to a huge cave like Fingal’s Cave on Staffa with rocky skerries all around. Luckily the captain decided we would anchor off an amazing looking medieval fort. It was still a bit swelly but better than the night before. We decided to explore this intriguing place so J rowed ashore deciding he needing the exercise and we looked forward to visiting the fortified monastery however it was a weird place inside resembling a lap dancing club with scantily clad beatniks, lounging about on futons or gyrating to a Latino beat! We left them to it and made the steep climb up the stone steps to the top of the island, the path winding among sea bird nests and I wandered over to look down on the “village of fisherman”, hmm, was more like a refugee camp with tents in square walled areas of dirt and the ubiquitous tie dyed pareo strung out for shade. Glad to be rowing back to the sanctuary of the boat, we settled in for another bumpy night – the sea state, not the effects of the Latino beat!
“You stay in bed and I’ll take her out” ordered the skipper as I was suffering with a third night of little sleep making me a bit off, weak and nauseous, and with a 9hr day at sea ahead I was grateful to try to gain a bit of strength back. The day was punctuated by leaping sunfish looking fish that leaped clear of the water in a random fashion and a shark, not a big one maybe 1.5m but a shark never the less.
Days at sea are very different from days ashore, we settle into a routine of cups of tea or hot chocolate, chatting – I do marvel that even after 37 years together we never seem to run out of conversation – checking the charts, napping and food prep. But mostly I just sit on my comfy cushion, keep watch, watch the sea go by and think. I have always enjoyed thinking time and now I have oceans of it, it is such a luxury. I dwell on the past, my friends, my children, funny things that have happened and events that have taken place. Just as well I have a love of silence and space as I am getting plenty of it.
“How desperate are you for a marina tonight, as it is very expensive and for super yachts?!” the captain posed the rhetorical question.
“Oh not really, anchoring is fine” I lied, fantasizing most of the day about a fresh warm shower and a calm night. Even though we have showers on board we are always careful with water usage when out at sea for some time. As it turned out Cascais was a lovely anchorage and as soon as we have set the anchor I lowered myself into the cold water to freshen up. It was lovely though once I had acclimatised and reminded myself it was a lot warmer than Scottish west coast water! The beach looked busy and fun but we were too tired to go ashore so had a nice meal of veggie bake and an early night as another long day was expected the next day.
Still no wind which is frustrating but not much we can do about it however was an enjoyable trip down the coast across the big bay and finally into a small well appointed marina at Sines. We were met by a Scot from Ayrshire and his wife who had sailed down in the spring and were wintering here with their wee black cat. At last a shower, hair wash and laundry then we decided to treat ourselves to a meal out. We wandered along the beach front very reminiscent of Rio de Janiero with its tiled pavements and beach side bars though when I tried to order a Caipirinha, the young lad looked at me quizzically and suggested a cidre, oh well, not quite Rio. He also told us there were restaurants along the front and to keep walking. Well walk we did, for ages, getting darker and colder and nearly at the smelly petro-chemical plant along the coast! I’m sure we were on a motorway hard shoulder at one point until we rounded back into the outskirts of the town that looked like a ghetto with burnt out tyres lying around mangy dogs prowling about. With the help of good old Googlemaps we navigated finally to the centre of Sines and we stumbled, literally, across a fabulous restaurant with a restricted menu of meat or fish, perfect! We enjoyed plates of delicately fried mussels, dorado and sea bass accompanied by rustic bread, salad and sweet buttery potatoes, a staple with every meal here making us feel quite at home. Replete we strolled back down the short walk to the marina having now found that the restaurant and old part of the town was practically above the non-Caipirinha serving bar! Anyway, it meant we came across the fabulous fort, its walls covered in pretty fairy lights and a statue of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer standing proudly surveying the bay.
Sliding into clean, fresh sheets, with clean hair, clean body, with Stravaigin calmly tied up, I fell fast asleep at last. Exploring is hard work. Dreams don’t work unless you do.