Matt Don­ald and part­ner Paige Gro­gan cruise the Por­tuguese coast to the most south-westerly point of main­land Europe

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Words Matt Don­ald

The end of the world… and how to sail there. One cou­ple sails to south-west Por­tu­gal and the end of Europe

The anchorage was out of the wind and the swell and was just as beau­ti­ful as Paige and I had been led to be­lieve. The blue wa­ters were crys­tal clear with an abun­dance of ma­rine life. And nes­tled on the south­east­ern coast of the largest is­land of the Arquipélago das Ber­len­gas was the fa­mous Fort of São João Bap­tista das Ber­len­gas, with its ir­reg­u­lar oc­tag­o­nal shape and brick­work giv­ing off a red hue. This wild ar­chi­pel­ago off Peniche was cer­tainly one of the high­lights as we made our way down the coast of Por­tu­gal.

Known to Bri­tish mariners as the Burlings, the Ber­len­gas have long been a favourite stop­ping-off place for sea­far­ers. The fort was built in 1502 out of the re­mains of a monastery that had been there long be­fore, but aban­doned due to pi­rate at­tacks. Now, the fort stands watch over the bay.

We set­tled into a few days of ex­plor­ing the fort, with its paved ter­races and dra­matic bridge that links it to Ilha da Ber­lenga. The caves sur­round­ing the fort are amaz­ing to nav­i­gate, and we man­aged to take the ten­der in­side be­fore don­ning mask, snorkel and fins to try and catch a glimpse of the ma­rine life here.

It makes a good stop­ping-off point be­fore head­ing to Lis­bon, al­though make sure you have plenty of sup­plies as only a few peo­ple live on the is­land and there are no shops. The café at the fort does sell ex­cel­lent cake and drinks though.

Af­ter a few days in Ber­len­gas with pro­vi­sions run­ning low, it was time to de­part and head to Cas­cais just north of Lis­bon. We had come a fair way since leav­ing Scot­land many months be­fore on our Con­test 41, Nova.

We loved sail­ing Spain’s Rías coast­line, but it was good to be in Por­tuguese wa­ters, even if, as we later dis­cov­ered, berthing in mari­nas can be far from cheap and easy. Our first taste of this was at the Port of Leixões, where we de­cided to moor hav­ing been told it was cheaper and eas­ier to ac­cess than the ma­rina up the Duro river at Porto. Its lo­ca­tion in an in­dus­tri­alised area to the north of the city wasn’t its only draw­back; it was full when we ar­rived, partly be­cause it claims to be the cheap­est ma­rina in Por­tu­gal (€25 a night for our 41ft yacht).

With no space in the ma­rina, we had to an­chor just out­side in the wait­ing area be­fore go­ing ashore to clear in. Sur­pris­ingly, this was be­yond the remit of staff at the ma­rina of­fice and we had to re­turn the next morn­ing, by which time a berth had been found.

The ma­rina is crammed in the cor­ner of Leixões har­bour be­hind its own break­wa­ter and the pon­toons are small. There isn’t an aw­ful lot of ma­noeu­vring space but af­ter a quick look around, I was happy to mo­tor in. On moor­ing up, we were greeted by the sight of a lovely 60ft rac­ing yacht cov­ered from bow to stern in spon­sor­ship for Tay­lor’s Port, enough of an in­duce­ment for us to pay the €3 re­turn bus fare to ex­plore Porto, with its cel­lars and wine houses ded­i­cated to the sale of this for­ti­fied wine.

Af­ter a bit of ad­min and clean­ing the next day, we pointed the bow to­wards Figueira da Foz. A pod of dol­phins joined us for part of the pas­sage, which was made at least two miles off­shore to avoid the all-too-fre­quent lob­ster pots. The city of Figue­ria is a pop­u­lar coastal re­sort due to its soft, white sand beaches.

We found the ma­rina to be one of the best al­though, once again, we felt the cost of Nova’s 12.5m length. Por­tuguese mari­nas don’t charge on ex­act length but in­stead use a size bracket sys­tem, usu­ally 10m12, and then 12.1m-15m. This is great if you have a boat of say 11.5m, but not so good if, like us, you find your­self just in the more ex­pen­sive bracket.

We cer­tainly felt this when we went to Cas­cais, the main stop for cruis­ers who want to visit Lis­bon. Two nights costs us €90, the high­est price we paid in Por­tu­gal; the ma­rina, which is eas­ier to get into than the one lo­cated in the cap­i­tal, was well looked af­ter though. We did man­age to get some small boat jobs done be­fore meet­ing up with our friend Guy for a tour of the town. He showed us the main sights in­clud­ing the beach where the pre-ti­tle se­quence of the James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Se­cret Ser­vice, was filmed, and the dis­tinct white and red 247-year-old Cabo Da Roca light­house, which has stood watch over the At­lantic for cen­turies. The day was rounded off with an ex­quis­ite tra­di­tional Por­tuguese din­ner. The food in­cluded fresh sar­dines and chunks of beef steak: this meal was only equalled by the hot dog stand near the ma­rina, said to have the best wieners in a bun in the whole of Por­tu­gal. The ma­rina costs meant we couldn’t stay longer if we were to keep within our monthly bud­get, so we me­an­dered down the coast to the invit­ing anchorage of Ses­im­bra, where we dropped the hook for a night un­der tow­er­ing cliffs. The nearby se­cluded beach was in stark con­trast to the busy sands of Cas­cais. In hind­sight, it was a good job we had the chance to rest. Head­ing to the small vil­lage of Sines the next day, we had to con­tend with a thick sea mist, which left us re­ly­ing on AIS and radar. Af­ter steer­ing clear of the large ships sound­ing their horns, we

This wild and un­tamed ar­chi­pel­ago is one of the high­lights of Por­tu­gal

en­tered the anchorage safe and sound and as if by magic, the mist lifted and we en­joyed a lovely evening walk ashore with a stop at the lo­cal butcher’s shop to re­sup­ply.

It is hard to be­lieve today but for cen­turies, sailors be­lieved that the earth was flat and that ships could fall off the edge. Up un­til the 15th Cen­tury, the most south-western tip of Europe, Cabo de São Vi­cente and the sea be­yond, was con­sid­ered to be the point of no re­turn. Dubbed World’s End, it was this once-ter­ri­fy­ing body of wa­ter which we had to cross to con­tinue our voy­age south to La­gos in the Al­garve, ahead of prepa­ra­tions to leave main­land Europe for Madeira.

Not un­sur­pris­ingly, we didn’t drop off the edge. The pas­sage was straight­for­ward, with spec­tac­u­lar rugged coast­line and the stun­ning Cabo de São Vi­cente light­house.

Af­ter a stop over in Baleeira, we ar­rived in La­gos where the cost of the ma­rina left us with some­thing of a dilemma. We were hit with, wait for it, €55 per night. Walk­ing back to Nova, my pock­ets were sig­nif­i­cantly lighter and plans for a leisurely pro­vi­sion­ing were quickly fad­ing. Some­one was smil­ing down on us though, as a flip through the ma­rina brochure re­vealed a re­gatta in two weeks’ time. The cost to en­ter was €110 which in­cluded four nights at the ma­rina. This gave us two weeks to ex­plore the Al­garve be­fore head­ing back for the re­gatta, and four days to com­plete our pro­vi­sion­ing ahead of our pas­sage to Madeira.

We thor­oughly en­joyed sail­ing this spec­tac­u­lar coast­line, with rugged scenery and plenty of wind to fill your sails

With our spot in the re­gatta con­firmed, we spent the days get­ting to know this stretch of the Por­tuguese coast­line be­fore re­turn­ing to La­gos to pre­pare Nova for rac­ing. In re­al­ity, this meant mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing was tied down and then a trip to the bar, but for the se­ri­ous rac­ers, a lot more prepa­ra­tion was put in. An­chors and chain lit­tered the pon­toons, peo­ple were pump­ing out wa­ter from their boats to make them as light as pos­si­ble, while here we were with a lob­ster pot still strapped to the stan­chions!

The next day, we got up nice and early and headed off to get our re­gatta t-shirts and attend the race brief­ing. We met the only other blue­wa­ter yacht owner at the brief­ing. Roy, who owned a Hall­ber­grassy 43, was in his eight­ies but had more life in him than any 40 year old ei­ther of us have ever met! Af­ter the brief­ing, it was time to get rac­ing, or in our case, view­ing the race from the back at a leisurely pace.

For the first race, we man­aged to be at the back of the pack but clawed back a few spots, fin­ish­ing fourth to last out of 30-odd boats. That didn’t come with­out cost though! Dur­ing a gybe, we failed to get the main­sheet in fast enough which dam­aged the trav­eller, and so we dropped out of the sec­ond race, giv­ing us time to re­pair Nova and take a much needed rest: rac­ing with just two aboard was a lot harder than we ex­pected. That was about to change though. We met up with Kev, a mem­ber of Roy’s crew, that night for a few drinks and were in­tro­duced to Tim, known as the Gen­tle Gi­ant. At over 6ft tall and built like a rugby player, you could cer­tainly un­der­stand the nick­name. We were de­lighted when he agreed to join us the next day as part of Nova’s crew.

The sec­ond day of rac­ing was a slog, with a route over 30 miles long. To make it even more in­ter­est­ing, we had wind gust­ing over 35 knots. For­tu­nately, with Tim’s help, we made it round the course at a rea­son­able pace but we were left with more dam­age af­ter our jib sheet jammed, re­sult­ing in it hav­ing to be cut.

That was enough for us. We de­cided to re­tire rather than con­tinue in the re­gatta, al­though my rac­ing days were not over yet. The skip­per of an X43 was look­ing for an ex­tra crewmem­ber, so I of­fered to help out for a day’s proper rac­ing.

The end of the re­gatta marked the end of Nova’s rac­ing ca­reer and the end of our Por­tuguese ad­ven­ture. We both thor­oughly en­joyed sail­ing this truly spec­tac­u­lar part of Europe’s coast­line, with rugged scenery, rich his­tory and plenty of wind to fill your sails. We can’t wait to re­turn.

It’s hard not to be trans­fixed by Por­tu­gal’s stun­ning coast­line

ABOVE: Cas­cais is pop­u­lar for cruis­ers stop­ping off ahead of Lis­bon RIGHT: The light­house at Cabo de S‹o Vi­cente

RIGHT: No fear of fall­ing off the edge at World’s End

LEFT: Ilha da Ber­lenga has long been pop­u­lar with sea­far­ers

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