Sometimes when the night comes on
and Venus rises bright over the river,

I think I can see a boat floating white
in the mist, and my heart opens

with a fainting motion, laying back
on its bed of flesh.

Oh, to see the boat, going its way
towards the great, unfathomable sea.

L.L. Barkat



“I’m not really a sailor, only bought ve boat a year or so ago and fought, how ‘ard can it be?” Admitted the tall, amiable, man from Coventry.

“I’m on me own and fancied a winter in Spain so I’ve brought her dawn ‘er and hope I’ll make it to Spain!”

“Well you seem to have managed so far” I added encouragingly.

“Yeah but only because I ‘ad some 70 year old bloke what ‘ad been rand the world, telling me what ta do! An’ he’s goawn now so I’m trying to work it all auwt” He sighed and drew deeply on his fag.

He ambled along beside me as we went up to the marina office in Sines to check in.  I marvelled at his bravery and wondered how on earth these folks manage to get this far unscathed, when we seem to spend most of our time alert and trying our best to execute every manoeuvre safely and correctly.

“Awwh, ve’ve got a pool, fantastic, I could do wiv a swim!” He beamed, as we got to the top floor of the building, which opened out through glass doors to a piazza type frontage.

I giggled. “Erhm I think it’s a fountain but I dare you to swim in it” I challenged. He grinned at with a glint in his eye that made me think, oh jeez, I think he just might!

I love meeting these eclectic bunch of sea farers wherever we go. Most are couples like ourselves, usually a bit older, semi-retired but some are like us taking time out to follow a passion before health deteriorates or grandchildren appear and make the prospect of being away less appealing.

I smiled at the elderly English couple walking slowly along the pontoon, arm in arm, she with her walking stick and he dressed in his whites, including cap and knee high socks. How lovely that they are still able to travel like this. Then there is the Scandinavians, always annoyingly good looking, boats elegant and immaculate, blonde, tanned female, reclining on deck in stylish white and navy knitwear, like a brochure for healthy living.

The Brits, usually sailing in small flotillas, who seem to get very stressed when they come in to tie up then shuffle about until all the group end up on one boat and the drinkies appear with the Ipads as they research what the local area has to offer, usually reading all the bad Trip Advisor reports first.

And then there is the animals. The sea dogs are an assorted bunch, some are huge hounds that woouf at passer byes, while wagging enormous bushy tails that serve as deck sweeps, the yappy terriers sporting neat little lifejackets, that cock their wee legs on the deck regularly, exerting their territorial rights. And a couple of sleek grey hounds who glide along the pontoon with matching collars and leads and a most aloof look. I did wonder about a hound on a boat but they were headed for the beach to stretch out their long legs and race across the flat firm surface. I remembered our wee cross-breed dog, who would come sailing on our small boat with all the kids and spent most of her time standing in the saloon, looking as green as a black and white collie dog can and patiently waiting until we rowed her ashore for welcome relief and solid ground. Her only issue was, unless you kept a tight hold on her collar in the dinghy, she would leap ashore from a great distance before we had time to dock, usually ending in her submerging and remerging to scrabble up the rocks and shake vigorously, at which all the kids would yell unanimously,

“She’s not sleeping in my bunk tonight!”

She was such a sport, as long as she was with us, she didn’t mind. In fact I recall one time she definitely used up one of her many lives when the captain went sea kayaking with another couple, down at the shore in front of our house and was not aware she was sniffing around the shore along from him.

I got a phone call from him from a mile or so down the coast asking me to come and get the dog!

A fishing boat, by sheer luck, had passed them and asked them if they knew there was a small black dog was swimming after them! She had to be hauled across the deck of the kayak and paddled back to shore for collection, I hate to think what would have happened if that boat had not spied her.

A nice retired couple from Ayrshire came over to chat to us and warned us we may find their black cat on our boat as she tends to wander, in fact she announced, it was the only time they argue as to whose shot it was to go and find the cat in the marina. To avoid this they usually anchor out however they  have to pay the price when they return to the boat having left her for a couple of hours, while they shop or sight see.

“She is a wee besom, she curls round yer ankles aw nice then when you bend down tae pat her, she sinks her teeth inti yae! Look at my erms”

Right enough, she was fairly lacerated. The ancient Egyptians thought cats were gods, they have never forgotten this.

It certainly is part of the fun in staying at a marina when we are forced to live next to all kinds of people and share the usual,

“Where are you from, where have you been, where are you going?”

Most folks are pretty impressed we have only taken a month to sail from Oban to Andalucía as it seems the general form is to leave Northern Europe in May and meander down. However, we did not have that luxury having work commitments preventing us from leaving until mid August so we are pretty much on the move every day. It’s fun though as you never know what the next day will bring and where you will be spending the night.

We left Sines stuffed. Literally, stuffed. We had wandered into the lovely wee town for lunch and happened across a tiny taverna, Adega de Sines, plain tiled walls inside and marble benches with wooden stools. A smiley lady gesticulated to us to come in and sit down, then a performance began! As we had no Portuguese and the delightful staff no English, I was taken over to the ancient BBQ built into the wall serving as a window onto the street where the ash spewing out of it covered the parked cars in front. The similarly ancient chef gave me a toothless grin as he deftly flipped the fish over, something I reckon he had been doing since a boy. I was shown there was only two options, Sardines or Chicken legs. No problem. Then I was taken by the hand into the tiny kitchen which was full of smiley ladies stirring bubbling pots and pans, she raised the lid on one and showed me a bean soup/stew and picked up a huge, what looked like a dog whelk, shell and waved it about. “Boa, boa”

Ok I agreed, “Boa!” =  good and it was brought out in stages. First the salad, bread, beer and potatoes, then the whelk bean stew which was delicious but very filling. I did not want any mains as this was enough but J had ordered his favourite sardines so when the man came to clear our plates he gesticulated for him to keep his cutlery and said something about his plate, we though he meant he’d give him a clean plate but no – he appeared back with another helping of stew! Poor J, he hates waste so insisted I had to eat it so he could have his sardines! Boy did I struggle but I did my best. Then she appeared with a tray of homemade creamy desserts or slices of melon and insisted we choose something.  I thought the lesser of the evils was the melon until she slide two huge slices onto my plate! All these, plus drinks for 12 euros each!

I tried to swim it off when we got back to boat but failed and lay in bed that night, groaning. Was glad to leave Sines though as the petrochemical fumes were intoxicating. Nice sail on to Sagres which was lovely at anchor off a small beach. Our former crew mate Stewart had been there a few days previously with Amy and gave us lots of great recommendations however we arrived late in the day and had to anchor off making getting ashore tricky. Pity as I had fancied the smoothies he told me about and the launderette with yoga while you wait!

There was a great commotion going on over at the fishing port and it turned out the world championship spear fishing contest had been held that day but was just finishing and the weigh in was going on, hence the cheers every time a weight was announced. There seemed a party going in that night and our neighbours, two gap year looking lads ardently rowed over to see what they could catch at the lively marquee.

A lovely morning swim from the boat to wander along the beach refreshed me but had to up anchor and leave after breakfast to get to Faro in time. Great winds so had a nice sail but was a chunky push up against the outflowing tide to get up the estuary to anchor in a nice bay south of Faro. It was so peaceful, you would not know there was a city across the bay.

Early start again which is becoming a bit of a routine to make the long hours at sea to reach our next anchorage before dark as there are not many along the coast. Reached the river estuary that is the border between Portugal and Spain and took a berth at Ayamonte Marina on the Spanish side which was ok but a but smelly due to a low tide exposing mud flats. Made use of the facilities and treated ourselves to a lovely meal, only now actually feeling like we could eat again! Pulpo a la Gallega was amazing and had been recommended by my Catalan daughter-in-law-to-be! It was sublime, soft sweet slices of octopus in light oil and paprika. Nice little Andalucian holiday resort town with the usual mixture of cafes, tapas bars, fiesta squares with ride-on kiddy cars and souvenir shops.

Having had our fill of that, we made our way towards Cadiz and anchored across the breakwater from a Naval base, not sure how happy they were with the captain skinny dipping but as he posed no obvious threat to national security, we were not asked to move on. These ships were happy to pass us in the night.

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