After a short stop in the marina of Barbate, during which we went for several hikes in the surrounding Natural Park, we continued our cruise towards the Algarve. Originally, our plan was to sail directly to Madeira, but the current unusual weather systems didn't permit a safe sailing. The low pressure systems headed for Gibraltar instead of for Ireland, like they had done for the last one hundred years.
Even in the bay of Cadiz the winds were very unsteady. We had to alter the course from time to time but then the waves began to run against each other and it was a very bumpy ride across the bay for 35 hours. This time there were no ‘crazy’ war ships, but the electronic system played some pranks on us. In the middle of the night – Danielle was just taking over her watch shift - all our position lights suddenly went dark. A quick glance around and at the AIS on the plotter (automatic identification system for ships) showed a fishing vessel behind us, a tanker on starboard and a container ship on the port side. A check in the engine room revealed a broken fuse, which we couldn't activate again. So there had to be short circuit somewhere... And what could we do to be seen again by the other ships? After some quick and hard thinking we took out our anchor light and Ben went to the bow, over which waves were rolling from time to time, to plug it into the external socket. In doing so, he realized that the metal around the socket was quite warm. Opening the lid to the anchor box, smoke was coming out – well at least we had found the trouble maker. Somehow water had entered the socket and connected the two poles. After cutting and isolating the cable everything worked fine again – at least for some time.
Early in the morning, all of a sudden the whole navigational system (AIS, GPS, Radio, board computer, anemometer, etc.) said bye, bye! The new 12V battery ran to low, although the engine had been running just before. We figured that the alternator had to be broken. Fortunately, when installing the new wind generator we had put in a bridge between the 24V and 12V systems. Thus, after a quick switch, the systems ran indirectly over the bigger batteries.
In Albufeira we spent as little time as possible, taking care of only the most important reparations. With all the commercial touristic enterprises in and around the harbor we didn't really feel comfortable. There were high speed boats, fishing cruisers, dolphin watching and diving boats, pirate cruises – all of them leaving several times a day packed with people to do same routine time and again. After hearing the same pirates song (when they left and came back) for the umpteenth time, we had enough. Fortunately, the island of Culatra in front of Faro was not far and we set sail heading southeast. Why not wait there for the Portugal Trade winds? Of our only concern were the tides and currents which we had to cross to get to the anchorage of Culatra, a huge saltwater lagoon with only two small entrances to and from the sea, where currents up to eight knots can occur.
Ilha da Culatra
The timing to enter the lagoon seemed not too bad, since there were a handful of other boats just going through the gap. It proved quite easy to find the anchorage; we just had to follow them. It still being early in the season, there were only 15 other boats beside us instead of the 100 or more yachts in high season. We picked a nice spot, with enough place for swaying, for our new Rocna anchor. What had looked quite easy became frustrating, because the current and wind were running in different directions, turning the boat all the time. Finally, after the 3rd try, the anchor hit the bottom. Now we were interested in finding out, if the anchor would do its job as promised in the many ratings. After laying some chain, Danielle put the gear in back, but didn't make it far. A violent jolt went through the chain to the anchor winch and for a second I thought it would get ripped off... Then I remembered: “rtfm” (read the f... manual). Yes, there was a manual; a manual for our anchor, which was lying unread in a corner of the saloon. On the first page was written in large letters that the anchor tends to dig in and hold very fast – one should be careful. The anchors we had known until then didn't hold very well. Would we actually be able to sleep without worries for the first time?!
The following days we spent exploring the bay and Island of Culatra with our dinghy – not without first and completely taking apart the outboard engine for the tenth time. After cleaning all parts and exchanging the spark, it ran smoothly for the first time :-) The village of Culatra is only accessible on water and mostly inhabited by fisher men. During the day they are repairing their nets and in the evening leaving for the sea. We really enjoyed the time on this quiet island, taking long hikes along the beaches (yes, Danielle again smuggled hundreds of shellfish on board) and swimming in the Atlantic waves.
As the weather seemed to be getting better for leaving, we headed northwest towards the Marina of Vilamoura which is another very touristy place with a lot of super yachts. But it didn't bother us this time – we were very busy with washing clothes, repairing things and looking for spare parts (5h for special screws and sparks) – and filling up the boat with food and water for the five day passage to Madeira.
To avoid getting bitten by the “harbor silly mood”, we rented a car and visited the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana and Seville – the latter on a guided bicycle tour. We loved Seville with all its parks, the pavilions from the expo, its great history, relaxed life style and the flamenco contests in the small bars at night.
Crossing to Porto Santo
At last, the Portugal North trade winds set in and we were able to leave the mainland of Portugal. Before us lay 500nm – an estimated sailing time of 5 days to Porto Santo (Madeira). For us it was the first real test of sailing without anybody else on board. With mixed feelings we unhooked from the moorings in the evening and motored out of the harbor. How would it work out? Night shifts would mean less sleep. What would it be like to cook, navigate and work on the computer with the bigger waves?
The winds were perfect and we set the sails after five minutes. But the first problems arose after only one hour. The AIS showed several bigger fishing boats trawling in front of us. We knew that we had to give them right of way and changed our course more than 15° to give them a wide berth. But shortly afterwards the first boat turned 180°, the second 90°, etc. and we had to change time and again. So it went on for almost two hours, this ballet of boats. Whenever we got closer, we could make out the fisher men on the other boats working their nets. We were very lucky indeed not to get entangled in one of their nets.
Once past them we adjusted our heading and had a nice and quiet first night with an amazing sky full of stars, the auto pilot steering us safely across the still small waves.
Towards noon on the second day the wind picked up. At 25kn (6 Bft) the waves began to grow and hit the boat from the side. We had to shorten the sails from time to time, so there was not too much pressure on our old rig. Working inside the boat was becoming quite tricky - you always needed at least one hand to hang on to whatever hold available, so as not to ‘fly’ hard from one side to the other. Nonetheless, Danielle managed to cook all sorts of menus twice a day :-). We had risotto, steaks, vegetables, spaghetti and for breakfast hash browns with eggs and bacon. Way to go! Whenever sailing, we need all the food and drink (water, no worries) we can manage.
During the day we tried to make up for the sleep we had lost on the night shifts. With handling the sails (we never go out of the cockpit alone), navigating and surveying the radio during the night, there was no more than three hours of sleep for each. However, rolling in 3m waves made it very tricky to find a spot, where we could relax without falling down, rolling off or bumping our heads...
Fortunately, from the third day onwards, the wind came from aft and we were able to manage etmals of 125nm. The only thing we were missing were the fish – still not a single bite on the line.
One should imagine that you would be alone on this huge ocean, with little commercial traffic in the area. Not so! Twice our AIS beeped and announced a container ship / oilship on collision course. The captains were surprisingly friendly, however, and after a quick chat on the radio each one uf us altered his course a couple of degrees for a safe passage.
After 4.5 days we spotted the first group of clouds on the horizon – a good sign for an island. We were happy to arrive on the same day, because our stock of Red Bull and Coffee Drinks was almost gone and ACDC, Metallica and Phillip Maloney did no longer help in keeping us awake during the night watches ;-)
But again we could not enter the small harbor of Porto directly. At the exact same time the ferry from Madeira and a supply ship arrived and we had to wait for half an hour. Fortunately, the wind had dropped an hour previously and the island protected us very well from the swell.
The only problem was that we were not able to either raise the marina, the harbor or the police on the radio for permission to enter. After a while we headed for the basin. There were already people from other yachts waiting, showing us a berth and helping with the lines. Well, that was a nice welcome. We had a feeling, that we would have a great time here with this group of people (only 20 other sailing yachts). But first we had to deal with the local police, the national police, immigration, the marine police and customs, etc. to get clearance.