Coast of many colours
An enjoyable sail along Portugal’s picturesque Algarve
THE young woman stands on the crowded Lagos dock and raises her voice above the cries of the souvenir sellers and touts. ‘‘ Bom dia, bom dia (Good morning, good morning),’’ she shouts in lilting Portuguese. Our little group scrambles to attention because Bom Dia is also the name of the two-masted sailing vessel on which we are about to spend the day cruising along the Algarve coast of southern Portugal.
We follow the woman along the dock, through the crowds of milling tourists, darting waiters and lounging fishermen to a gaff-rigged, broad-beamed schooner, painted in riotous primary colours.
We traverse the gangplank, find a spot on the broad deck and are welcomed enthusiastically by the crew, who seem to be a mixture of Portuguese locals and Dutch backpackers.
There are fewer than 20 passengers, so there is plenty of room to spread out.
Ropes are hauled, orders are given and we move away from the busy dock. We motor down the channel from the harbour to the Atlantic Ocean, past the palm trees, the whitewashed latticework chimneys and domes of the seafront houses of Lagos. I wonder if this scene has changed much in the 600 years since the caravels of Prince Henry the Navigator ventured from this historic port. Those intrepid sailors were the first Europeans to discover the mysterious lands of Africa and India.
We pass the replica caravel Boa Esperanca (Cape of Good Hope) moored on the town side of the channel. There are tourists queuing to get on board. It is alarmingly small, about 20m in length, cumbersome and barrel-like, with no protection for the crew, who must have slept on deck in all kinds of weather.
As our boat moves down the channel, I can see through a stand of palm trees on shore the Praco do Infante Dom Henrique, dedicated to Prince Henry and his golden age of Portuguese discovery and prosperity. Unfortunately, this pretty little square had the dubious honour of hosting Europe’s first slave market, open- ed in 1444. The building, which has four round, arched porticos, was used as the port’s customs house in the 19th century and now functions as an occasional art gallery. The impressive Church of Santa Maria is only a short distance away across the square and is of the same vintage as the slave market.
The 17th-century Forte da Ponta da Bandeira squats protectively on an outcropping of rock as we clear the sea wall and head into a slight ocean swell.
A couple of crew members circulate around the deck, taking orders for coffee or drinks. The day is fine and already hot. The coast of North Africa lies south over the horizon.
We head south and then southwest along the coast towards the North Atlantic, in much the same direction as Prince Henry’s caravels must have done. The diesel is still running and the sails are furled. The wind is on the bow and this old lady of the sea can’t sail anywhere near close to the wind.
The rugged cliffs are extremely weathered and, over the centuries, little grottos, caves and inlets have formed, washed by a deep emerald sea. We cruise along the coast to the little resort town of Luz, past long, beautiful stretches of beach that would make a Queenslander feel at home. The only problem is that the water temperature is more like Hobart on a cold day. The Portuguese skipper lays on the long tiller and puts the boat about, and we head inshore towards the cliffs. We anchor close in and the crew leaps into action. Lunch is served with bottles of the local vino blanco and rose. We eat spicy piri piri chicken, a legacy of Portugal’s African colonial past, and marinated okra salad. The sunlight is tempered by a gentle sea breeze. An excellent local almond liqueur is produced to finish our meal.
Then a small flotilla of fast-moving runabouts rounds the point and heads for us. They throttle back and moor alongside. Life jackets are produced and we are invited aboard for a tour of the grottos and caves. With the sea surging through, it is a fascinating and eerie experience.
Back on Bom Dia, we up anchor; ropes are hauled and sails set. Our boat moves leisurely back towards Lagos with the wind behind.
Bom Dia sails away from Lagos; below, a delicious Portuguese meal on board