Sunday, 21 February 2016

Misfortune #2

15-17 Feb: Vilamoura

On the evening of February 15th, I finally got the new main sail and the repaired head sail. I must thank to my friend Vitor Frade and to José Wanzeller from Sailloft their help and commitment in solving the sails issue in such short time. 

For a big finale, I had to carry the two sails alone from the bus station to the boat. It was a hard task due to the weight and size of the bags, but I made it. After all the physical effort, I thought it might be a good idea to offer a treat to myself. I got to the "TA Taberna" restaurant for dinner. 

Unlike the real tavern I had lunch in Sines, this was a gourmet tavern, with pretty blond waitresses and gourmet service. Nevertheless, the food was good looking and tasty. I enjoyed what I thought it will be my last dinner in Portugal for a couple of months. 

The house special dish at the "Taberna". Homemade fried potatoes with chicken. 
I went to sleep that day with well-defined plans for Tuesday, 16th: have a good breakfast, prepare the food for the passage, set up the sails, check-out from the marina, and leave Vilamoura, crossing the Gulf of Cadiz to Chipiona. 

But, as often happens, plans are not always as we expect. While preparing the boat for the trip, my glasses fell over the pontoon into the water. I promptly prepare myself to dive: neoprene suit, mask,  snorkel and fins. It seems simple listed like this, but it took more than a half-hour to be ready to dive. Fortunately, a kind fellow sailor girl that was cleaning a boat nearby helped me wearing the neoprene suit, amidst jokes on my how tummy grew since last time I had worn that suit.

I dive in the area where the glasses fell for almost one hour without success. The water was around four meters deep and I had no air tanks. For every couple of minutes underwater I had to return to the surface to breathe. I gave up to try to find them for myself I looked for professional help. 

I contacted both the marina services and a diving school nearby. The opinion was unanimous. It probably doesn't worth the effort. The probability to find the glasses amongst all the debris is low. Worst, the divers will only be available the following week, which reduces even more the probability of success. Moreover, I had to pay them, whether they find the glasses or not.

Retrieving my glasses was o valid option, then. I must buy a new pair. Since I have no details about the lenses, the faster and cheaper solution was to go back to Lisbon for it. I took an express bus and, on Wednesday evening, I was back to Vilamoura with this problem solved. After all, my dinner at "A Taberna" on Monday evening was not my last dinner in Portugal before heading to Spain. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Solving problems

01 to 15-Feb: Vilamoura

I spent Monday morning assessing the damage in the mainsail and figuring out out to solve this problem. I concluded that, since the sail had ripped off in two and is more than fifteen years old, it was unworthy to repair it. The goal now was to get a new one as faster as possible.

The mainsail ripped in two 
The following two days were spent calling sailmakers and negotiating the best solution, regarding both costs and delivery time. After many calls and a short, I decided to order the new sail to Sail Loft. They would have one ready in less than two weeks by a fair price. Next step was to remove the old sail, pack it, and to send it to the sailmaker.

Packing the old ripped sail in the pontoon
That afternoon a dinghy came to my pontoon the pick up the sail. It was a first class service from Sail Loft guys. Later that week they even took my genoa to perform small repairs. Awesome. The following week I just took some time to work, to cook, and to enjoy magnificent sunsets.

Sunset on February 3rd 
Sunset on February 4th
Sunset on February 7th

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


31-Jan: Lagos to Vilamoura

First thing in the morning, I went to the marina reception for checking in. It was closed when I arrived late in the evening. I was expecting to pay an overnight stay, but people at reception were extremely kind and, since we arrived in the middle of the night and we'll be leaving in a few minutes after a few hours in the reception pontoon, they don't charge us the daily fee. More than the money value of the fee, it was the way we were welcome that matters. It was not my first time in Lagos Marina and won't be the last, for sure. I maintain my strongly recommendation to my fellow sailors: if you're passing by, Lagos Marina is an excellent choice both for one-night rest or for longer stays.

Leaving Lagos Marina
The hours just after leaving Lagos were of slow sailing with a gentle breeze pushing the boat at a speed of around two to three knots. I used that time for taking off the weather gear (it was a warm sunny day, after all), washing the deck and eating the second breakfast. All before the wind changes and a moderate northern breeze start pushing us faster and faster. At some point, Trovoada was sailing at more than seven knots over ground. 

Saling at more that seven knots, speed over ground.
Despite its more than fifteen knots, the wind was steady, with no gusts. The sea was calm. In these conditions, Trovoada is quite easy to handle. With the sails well trimmed, she sailed by herself. Even the auto-pilot is unnecessary. Thus, I can relax and enjoy the sunshine. 

Relaxed sailing
Even while relaxing, when you're sailing you should keep a sharp eye. I was doing exactly that when I spot, at far, a dark speed boat heading in my direction from starboard. As it got closer I recognized that it was the maritime police. Well, they saw me just as you see in the pic above, casual, to say the least. They quickly put the speedboat side by side with Trovoada and started asking me questions: from I came; to where I was going; if I was alone; if they can step onboard. I furled the jib, released the mainsail and they came on board.

I was expecting a quick documents check. Instead, they inspected everything. From documents to emergency equipment, including checking the expiration date of flares and liferaft. They even wanted to look at bow and aft cabins. I didn't look at the clock, but I'm sure they were onboard for more than half-hour. Fortunately, everything was ok and they left just with wishes for a pleasant journey. 

It was indeed pleasant, but just for a while. I was fine trimming the sails when I notice a strange behavior on the mainsail. I looked up and what my eyes saw froze my blood for a couple of seconds. The main sail was starting to rip. 

The main sail, ripping.
Softly, I released the main halyard and tried to let the sail down. But the main head wasn't falling as supposed. It was stuck at the top of the mast. I was aware that I had only two options. Either I climb up the mast to pull the sail down or try to gently push it. The first was unfeasible since I was alone onboard. I went for the second. Naturally, even with very gentle handling, the sail ripped in two during the process.

Trovoada humped the next nine miles to Marina de Vilamoura, sailing only with the jib. My morale was obviously down. I was analysing my options. It was not possible to continue the journey as planned. I needed to stay in Vilamoura to repair or replace the sail. There was nothing to do now. The adventure will halt for a while.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Rollercoaster to Lagos

30-Jan: Sines to Lagos

After a good night sleep, we left Sines harbor under a gentle breeze. The port was quieter than when we arrived. I could rely on Trovoada's auto-pilot to handle the boat to open waters while I stow  fenders and cables and hoist the sails.

Sailing within sight of land - Serra de Grândola on the horizon.
On sight of land, we sail south comfortably for a few hours. As two days before, we were sailing downwind. To avoid an accidental jibe, I head a few degrees westward than necessary. It allowed a good compromise between speed, comfort, and safety.

Pleasant sailing hours passed. The wind grew stronger and the waves higher. For most of the afternoon, the wind was blowing 12 to 16 knots with three-meter waves. At the sunset, everything went calm for some time. I even got another visit by a small group of dolphins that swum side by side with Trovoada. Before the night fell, I enjoyed another sunset at sea.

Sunset at sea
These were the last minutes of calm. As the extraordinary colors of the sunset gave place to the dark black sky, the wind and the waves grew steadily. When we were around 10 miles north of cape St. Vicent, the wind was blowing above 20 knots and four-meter waves shook Trovoada.

Although I have no images, for obvious reasons, negotiating the cape was a hard task. It was pitch black - the moonrise happened just a few hours later when I was arriving Lagos. I can not see much more than the lighthouse at a safe distance. And even this beacon disappears every time we were in the bottom of the wave.

Trimming the sails to fit the new course was daunting. A fishing boat approaching and crossing my planned route made this task even more difficult. Indeed, I had a bad time for a while. Beaten by the waves, I was struggling to follow the lighthouse beacon and to guess the course of the fishing boat based solely on the red and green lights that I saw.

Then, the plotter started to bip. This was good. I was arriving at the waypoint that marked the position where we had to definitively turn East. Sailing at six knots, it didn't take long to reach Ponta de Sagres. 

From that point on it was a walk in the park. A steady 16 knots "nortada" pushed us at more than six knots, sometimes above seven knots, until Ponta da Piedade.

After passing Ponta da Piedade was time to prepare the boat for docking. A half-hour later we were entering the deserted Marina de Lagos. It was almost 2 AM. I tied the Trovoada at the reception pontoon, took of the weather gear and went down to prepare something hot to eat. What a great day! 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Strolling in Sines

29-Jan: Sines

After a well deserved night of sleep and since strong winds and five-meter waves were forecasted for the morning, I decided to spend the day in Sines. After working in the morning, I left the marina and strolled through the narrow streets of the old city center.

Sines seafront houses
There I found a typical tavern and had lunch there.  This was not one of those new gourmet restaurants disguised as a tavern, now commonly found in Lisbon. This is the "real deal", with the five-liter wine bottle, the elderly owner serving food to dockworkers, and the old wooden tables with marble tops.

The typical tavern where I had lunch
Then, after lunch, I seated close to the castle walls and had a skype meeting. I can say that I was working with a privileged ocean view. From there I can view the sidewalk, the beach, and the marina on the left, protected by the inner breakwater and, further ahead, by the port breakwater.

View from the Sines Castle
After buying fresh fruit and bread, I went back to Trovoada. There I relaxed for a while, before getting back to work. Everything (including me) must be ready for the more than seventy nautical miles to Lagos, that we will sail the following day.

Relaxing onboard while at Sines marina (porto de recreio de Sines)

Monday, 1 February 2016

Dolphins, wind and waves

28-Jan: Sesimbra to Sines

Since it was a pouring rain in the morning, I just left Sesimbra after lunch. Soft winds push me Westwards for the first couple of hours. During this time I could relax and have a quick nap. Then, a group of bottlenose dolphins start swimming alongside Trovoada, jumping out of the water from time to time.

Dolphins just half-dozen miles South of Sesimbra
Finally the wind start to blow, I dressed up the weather gear and prepared for the rest of trip. Sailing downwind, Trovoada's speed rose to above five knots. The sailing conditions were fine and I chose to run before the wind, "popa rasada" in Portuguese, despite the danger of an accidental jibe.

Almost at sunset, around twenty miles Northwest of Sines, another group of dolphins sailed alongside Trovoada. This time they accompanied us for longer, but with jumping out of the water. Again, this was a magical experience and this time I got to capture them on video (which is not that simple when you are sailing solo and wearing weather gear).

Not much later, the sun disappeared on the horizon. For a while the wind calmed down and I could take a few minutes  down at the galley for an early dinner. As the darkness fell, the wind started blowing stronger and stronger. The swell grew to from four to five-meter waves.  We sailed the last ten miles before the Sines Cape under wind blowing above twenty knots in a moonless, pitch-black, night.

The last light of the sunset
While not scary, it was nerve-breaking to arrive at Sines harbor in the middle of the night with tugboats and cargo ships maneuvering to enter the port, while I was heading upwind to the marina against strong winds. Nevertheless, getting into the pontoon and tying the boat all alone was easier than I was expecting. After finishing the check-in, I was tired but happy with the fulfilled goal.