Coast of many colours

An en­joy­able sail along Por­tu­gal’s pic­turesque Al­garve

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - NORM SI­MONS

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

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