It had come at last. The time to leave our cozy winter hideout for good and finally go cruising again. The boat had passed a shakedown sail and was ready to go. We were too. When we arrived in Albufeira for winter, we were glad to have a fixed base for a while. But after 6 months, it seemed we were stuck in one place for too long. Perhaps breaking up winter berthing into several different locations with 2-3 months at each would be cool. But the marina pricing schemes don't really cater to that - good deals on winter contracts are usually for around 6 months.
After dropping off our guest crew, we stuffed the boat full with food, water and diesel fuel at Albufeira, including some in our jerrycans. I like to always have at least one of them filled with Diesel, for emergencies (e.g. a blocked fuel system or contaminated tank). But since Diesel was more expensive in Portugal than in Spain, in this case we just took enough to motor to our next planned stop.
We headed to the large anchorage off Culatra, in the Ria Formosa lagoon outside Faro. Winds were light and we sailed slowly, then fired up the engine and motorsailed the rest of the 25 miles. We'd spent a lot of time here before, and it was a good place to wait for weather suitable for a passage to Cadiz, plus a good jumping off point that would position our track well off the coast and its endless stream of poorly marked fishing gear.
We had to wait a few days, and nights. During the nights, small fishing boats would come and fish in the lagoon, apparently illegally. One was especially interested in deploying his line very near our boat every night. It became apparent to us later that this was because we left our deck flood light on at night, to really light up the whole boat and make us very visible, as the place also had a reputation for high-speed boat chases in the dark.
The light didn't just shine on the deck, it also shone on the water next to our boat and attracted lots of fish, and therefore also fishermen. One night I heard a strange sound from under the boat and went outside with my flashlight to look around. The fisherman was nearby and tugging on a line that led to our boat. "What the hell are you doing!?" I shouted diplomatically. He shouted back something in Portuguese, which far exceeded my limited vocabulary, meaning he wasn't talking about food or coffee. It eventually dawned on me that he'd caught his gear in our rudder while fishing around our boat. After some communication problems, he spoke the only English phrase he knew: "No problem", cut his line in half, gave me one end to hold on to and then pulled the other clear of our rudder. Then he came back for the remaining half and retrieved that too. With his gear now broken, he motored off and that was that. At least I didn't have to go dive under the boat in the dark, as the water was still a bit chilly in April.
Another day a large regatta came by and raced a variety of sailboats right through the anchorage, so we got lots of great photos and video clips.
It was Elvyra's birthday when our weather window finally arrived. I woke her up with some improvised cake and some candles I'd bought. This resulted in also waking up everyone else in the anchorage, but you'd best watch the video to see how that happened.
The bay of Cadiz was some 80 miles away, which meant an overnight sail. The forecast looked okay, so we pulled up the anchor in the afternoon, cleared off the seaweed and some rubbery bungee cord type of stuff it had pulled up and motored out of Ria Formosa. The tide was running out and the wind was blowing in, which made for a brief bumpy ride exiting the lagoon. I got splashed pretty good too, but dried off soon enough in the wind and sun.
There was plenty of wind, quite a bit more than forecast, so we were making good speed through the night. Unfortunately a bit too good, which meant we'd arrived while it was still dark, instead of after sunrise as planned. But since there was also a very unpleasant cross-swell knocking us around, we decided not to slow down as we wanted to get out of this. It was our first proper sail of the year and we'd not yet gotten our sealegs back.
The swell was up and nearing the coast we got an updated weather forecast, which now said gale warning for the bay of Cadiz. We had planned on anchoring (there were several spots in the bay mentioned in the pilot book), but instead decided to seek shelter in the marina at Rota, at the north end of the bay. The lights ashore were quite confusing. There were far more bright red lights than mentioned on the chart, and only after we arrived we realized these were all mounted on the large ships parked in the US naval based just around the corner. With the help of our radar, we found the harbour entrance in the dark despite the confusing lights. Finally out of the swell, I did a few turns in the narrow entrance while Elvyra deployed ropes and fenders. Unsurprisingly, nobody answered the radio at this time, so we just docked on their fuel pontoon and fell into bed exhausted.
The next day we cleared in and paid at the office. The place wasn't too expensive, as April is still off-season and the marina belonged to a group owned by the regional government, which offered good prices. They assigned us a berth and we moved the boat, then rested some more. We were awakened by the gale arriving with gusty winds and lots of rain.
A boat from Holland arrived, with a single-hander at the helm and two dogs on the bow. Since they were of no great help while docking, I took some lines for him. The guy was very friendly (as were the dogs) and he later offered us some beers and tales in exchange for diagnosing what was wrong with his dead bow-thruster.
Eventually we had rested enough and were ready to explore town. Rota seemed to be a rather well kept, if somewhat sterile town of mostly holiday houses. There was large park by the shore with wooden walkways that was supposed to have some rare species of chameleon. Despite intense looking, we never saw any of them, but then not being seen is sort of the point of being a chameleon.
At the far end of town we encountered more and more people dressed in traditional Andalusian outfits, and eventually some riding horses too. Turns out we'd stumbled into what must be a regional spring celebration. A large square was packed with people in fancy clothes eating food, riding horses and horse-drawn carts circling the place and a fun fair with more modern rides and blaring music just around the corner.
We also saw some highly motivated parking attendants. One kept blowing his whistle at every car and energetically pointing where they should go, which most of them ignored completely. While we rested on a bench, another parking guide had caught a small boy pissing behind a shed (possibly the parking attendant's office) and sent him off with a spanking, which provoked a shouting match between the boys mother and the parking warden. We didn't understand much, except "puta" flew around a few times, from both sides.
After all this entertainment, it was still a long walk back the far end of town. We were planning to head to Cadiz next, but the weather had other plans for us.