Winter is coming

Albufeira, Culatra, Portimao, Sailing, Vilamoura, Winter

Ria Formosa at low tide.

On our way eastwards, we had booked a 6 month winter berth at Albufeira, at a pretty good rate (with discounts, about half of what Lagos would've cost if I remember this right). We weren't really sure when winter would start here in the Algarve, but heard it should be definitely over by mid April. Counting 6 months back from that gave us about mid October to start our contract at Marina de Albufeira.

Songbird anchored at Culatra.

We left Ayamonte on a rising tide around noon and exited the Rio Guadiana before the tidal stream picked up too much. Sticking closely to the recommended path, we never had less than one meter of water under the keel on the way out. Leaving the river sandbanks behind, we turned back westwards and anchored again in Culatra by evening. We spent a few more beautifully warm late summer days there, with daily swims and a visit to the drying part of the lagoon by dinghy (powered by Ingmar wearing fins). This is completely submerged at high water, but forms a large and very flat island full of sea life when the tide is low.

This outboard engine is very eco-friendly and reliable, but known to occasionally make grumbling noises.

Of course the glorious yachting life is not all sunny swims and dinghy tours. The toilet pump had apparently suffered some damage the last time the pipe blocked, and now broken down completely. This is awkward, because to fix the pump, you have to take it apart. But of course you only realize the pump is broken when you use it, wanting to pump your finished business into the holding tank. So now you have a toilet bowl brimfull with, uhm, said finished business, and you can't remove the pump until you empty the bowl, else the stuff will flow all over the insides of the boat. I'll just say there was some colourful language in this quiet anchorage that day and leave the rest to your imagination.

Toilet repairs, the kind that makes you want to jump in the water and furiously scrub yourself. Which I did. And that poor bucket, too.

After a thorough scrubbing, we celebrated the return of quietness and the repaired toilet pump with some spaghetti aglio e olio. The next day it was time to leave, but not without another hiccup - the engine wouldn't start. It turned once or twice and then the starter solenoid just rattled, which was quickly diagnosed as a low starter battery and with a flick of the battery combiner switch the starter battery was linked to the large main battery bank and the engine purring away again. Diagnosing the empty starter battery (it shouldn't have been) added another job to the growing winter maintenance list.

Celebrating the fixed toilet.

We headed into Vilamoura, the one stop in the Algarve we hadn't seen yet, as it was too expensive on summer rates and had a terrible reputation. I happened to be fiddling with the portable radio receiver and tried finding a Portuguese FM station, but instead discovered what can only be described as a radio warning beacon, broadcasting an urgent message to stay away from Vilamoura. The RDS station name read "Kiss FM Vilamoura" and the British DJ was really trying his best to put us off visiting the place. We did nonetheless, and it was even more weird and alienating than expected. A huge marina, entirely surrounded by hotels and restaurants, which were in turn surrounded by Golf Courses. You couldn't hear a word of Portuguese in this town (oh wait, it's not a town), nor could you make it to the marina showers without someone trying to get to you to sit down in their restaurant, towel slung over the shoulder. I went into the Häagen-Dazs ice cream store, only to stumble out backwards upon hearing the price for two scoops of their ice cream. Perhaps it included a golf bag?

I wore this because of the plumbing incident, but it describes our opinion of Vilamoura pretty well too.

To be fair, it wasn't all bad. There was a chandlery on site that conveniently stocked spare parts for Jabsco toilets, at not entirely unreasonable prices. And the very nice sailmakers kindly gave me some blue nylon strips so I could make streamers for the mainsail - free of charge. A long walk into nearby Quarteira resulted in some very nice evening sky scenes.

Elvyra manages to find something pretty just about anywhere.

As we had two days left before our berthing contract at Albufeira would start, we headed back into Portimao anchorage and spent them there, with more swimming and some dinghy trips to the beach. We also spotted Kittiwake, a small blue-hulled catamaran which we knew from their vlog, Sailing Kittiwake. We had been following them because we really like their approach to low-budget "go now" sailing. They weren't in, so we dragged the dinghy up the beach and had a beer at the bar there, then knocked on their hull again on the way back and were promptly invited for drinks and conversation.

Back at Portimao and the good life.

The next day we headed back the 17.5 miles to Albufeira, found our berth and our home for the winter. Since leaving Brighton in June, we had sailed to France, back to Britain, across Biscay to Spain, through the Rias and the Portuguese west coast and eastwards along the Algarve to the border river. A total of 1'821 nautical miles and 350 hours underway, sadly approximately half of those with the engine running in some capacity. We'd stopped at 62 ports or anchorages, we'd seen a lot, learnt a lot, not broken too much and had no major mishaps. The boat was due for some winter maintenance and modifications based on things we'd learnt underway, but with several upgrades and some remaining jobs done on the road, it was in better shape than when we left.

Sailing Songbird: Return to Albufeira