Before we picked up the boys Exodus had 1200 nautical miles on her teller, or 2200 km. In 6 weeks of actual sailing we averaged 200 nm per week. The whole time our main objective was to get to the rendez-vous on time. After that, a new phase would start. The pressure will be gone. We’ll take it easy. However, being stuck in Fuengirola taught us a valuable lesson: you cannot control the weather. So if you have places to get to, if you have a certain travel itinerary, you better get going when the conditions are right. Our plan for the summer holiday was to hop along Portugal, cross to Porto Santo, on to Madeira, visit the Selvagem islands, and continue to the Canaries. We had 6 weeks’ time for this program. After that, the boys had to fly back to Belgium from Fuerteventura.
Our intention to relax and enjoy a bit of Portugal’s beautiful coast line was not to be. The weather looked great to leave immediately. On the other hand, we visited the Algarve before. We had seen enough to be set on leaving ‘little Britain’ before the holiday season truly started. Our preference goes to less crowded places. This moved the mainland of Portugal down on our list of must-sees. She stood reduced to a place to stock up, prepare the passage to the Portuguese islands and to pick up extra crew.
Not so deserted
After Gibraltar we went straight for Faro. We arrived on the incoming tide at day break at the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. This park is one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal. It consists of a river and a lagoon system, interspersed with dunes, forming small islands and peninsulas. These form barriers that protect a large area of marshes, channels and islets. We took the Ria Formosa inlet between Ilha Deserta and Ilha do Farol, with Faro still several miles upriver. We anchored in front of Ilha Deserta, a sandbar that serves as a bird sanctuary and marine reserve. Our anchorage offered nice views on Farol de Barra Nova and Ilheu de Farrol. The river mouth was full of small fishing boats, benefitting from the tide to catch the abundant fish jumping up and down at the edge of the reserve.
At Ilha Deserta we encountered party catamarans for the first time. Those brightly coloured boats are typically filled to the brim with tourists and sight seers. They play loud music. We have never seen them under sail. The cats are ferrying up and down between the quaint settlement on Ilheu de Farrol and the reserve. It must feel like a bit of a rip off to have a quick ride on a full boat and be marched off on the paths where all roads seem to end at the restaurant. For us, being anchored in front of the island, it was a great place for the kids to play on the beach. They tried jumping after the fish in the shallows, they found some dead seagulls to study, they built sandcastles and we said hi to the guy sorting out his nets in front of the tiny characteristic old fisherman’s huts now owned by the fisherman’s association.
Next morning we left for Portimão, where we would pick up our extra crewmember to cross to Madeira.
Portimão looks quite different from the water than from land. Unlike other places we visited the harbor is not just in the bay. In Portugal you often deal with tidal planes, river mouths etc to get to the harbor and the actual town. We anchored close to the inlet, in the bay opposite the big marina. We were lying next to the breakwater, with view on two beaches (Praia da Rocha and Praia do Molhe, the huge marina, and in the further distance the town with two forts testifying to the town’s rich history of having to defend itself against invaders, pirates and privateers. Supplies could be obtained by riding the dinghy onto the Arade river to the fishing harbor and walking to the Pingo Doce.
We woke up to the sound of Gitane crying ‘mullets’ on top of her voice and the kids managed to catch their first fish even before breakfast. At first sight, the smallest beach (Praia do Rocha) looked more private and only accessible by boat. When we took the dinghy there, to all have a swim, we realized this was not the case. There was a staircase going up the hill leading to a restaurant and road access.
Cooking under sail is not always easy. Especially if you have a decent wind speed and substantial swell, the warm cooking smells in a cramped unventilated and highly mobile galley has a tendency of turning Exodus’ bowels into a vomit comet. To prepare for all eventualities we decided to prepare three meals in advance. Winnie spent the bigger part of a day cooking on the rolling boat while the kids were having a great time on the almost deserted Praia do Molhe. This is a very long soft sand beach, perfectly smoothened by a grader every morning, patiently awaiting the arrival of our offspring to dig sandcastles and burrows. It was a great spot to be pre-touristic season. Marvelously quiet. If you walked far enough you could find beach chairs and a beach bar.
L’Atlantique est fantastique!
We left Portimão behind us and sailed for Sagres, where Henry the Navigator has his castle. Exodus set her sails southwest and followed in the footsteps of the great explorers. We were leaving the mainland of Europe behind us and going in a time warp, trying to imagine what it was like for Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Bartholomeus Diaz, following the trade winds on their big wooden barges into the great unknown.
Back to the present: Sailing from Portimão to Sagres and crossing to the Madeira islands takes anything between 4 to 7 days. We mentally prepared ourselves for 5 days at sea. We read a sailor’s blog of people taking 8 days of very little wind and swimming around the boat to defy the boredom. So we had a certain picture of what the crossing would be like, getting out the card and board games to play with the family while we gently cruised down. As soon as we reached the most south western point of Portugal we headed for the open ocean. She threw herself at us with full enthusiasm and catapulted us forward. Madam Atlantic was having a swell time with Brother Wind. Never slacking off, sending us across at bullet speed. The bit we had seen from the Atlantic so far, was highly impressive. She has deep dark blue waters. Wind speed ranged from 17 to 27 knots. We surfed on 5m swells. On the way from Gibraltar to Faro, Arthur cracked one of his ribs when a big swell nearly sent him backwards and head first down the stairs. Luckily his foot hooked somewhere and he landed on his ribs instead of breaking his neck. Getting in and out of bed became somewhat of a mission but apart from that he was his normal self, albeit a bit lopsided. But just like a sore toe that you keep on bumping against things or that others step on, Arthur’s ribs attracted some unwanted attention. Hugs and other displays of affection from the kids made him see stars. And landing on top of the winch after one of the big swells threw him off balance just made sure the rib cracked properly!
Once in a while these swells smacked with great violence over the bow or the sides, giving all of us a salt water shower, sloshing our deck clean with a few cubes of seawater. If we had any doubt that conditions were a bit rough, we found proof on deck about 3 weeks later in a sun dried calamari. The poor thing must have washed in on one of the big swells and failed to get off in time. There is clearly a big difference in sailing a sea versus sailing the ocean! The card and board games were wisely packed away in the cabins and we resorted to reading books and chatting instead. Our first day 2 crew members could feel the sea and wind party in their stomachs. By the end of day 2 more crew members had felt ill at some stage. But we all held on tight and set a new record for Exodus. We arrived at Porto Santo, the island before Madeira at the evening of the third day.